3 out of 5
Guts is an intriguingly layered story that essentially boils down to a micro-contemplation on race and gender, but it ends up being a bit too convoluted in its approach to pick up a lot of steam. It’s tempting to brush this affect off as an offshoot of author Gnesis Villar’s age, this being ‘One Teen Story,’ but the structure of the story is boldly complex – perhaps just needing a bit more room to add in some details a word count might not’ve allowed for – and is presented with a clear sense of planning and patience that supercedes any age judgments.
Going into too much detail may spoil the purposeful sense of discovery that’s baked into the tale; at a high level, Guts concerns high schooler Luz’s jealousy and frustrations as she sees her friend fall for a boy. She does the friend due diligence of tagging along as a third wheel, but there’s an ominous mention of girls disappearing at story’s start that hangs over the proceedings, having us question whether her concerns are teenage hyperbole or in fear of something truly more devious.
Unfortunately, Gnesis ducks and dodges away from further details at every opportunity. Played with this more of a central focus, that would work, but there’s the sense that there was an attempt to mystify things by chopping away at them; that is, writing a sequence, then stripping away words until you have a bare minimum to motivate the scene. This does create an organic sound and flow to the story, very much Luz’s thoughts, but it also makes it a bit frustrating at times, as you can tell that something is being held back. When some context emerges that gives things that more direct race / gender commentary, it becomes a question of what the focus is supposed to be. So instead of effecting that mystification, the structure ends up deflating some momentum.
Until hitting those speed bumps, though, Guts is incredibly immersive, plucking away at recognizable emotions and sprinkling them with this interesting extra level of intrigue.