May 2024

Bad Habit

By Alana S. Portero
Review by
The campy humor, biting observations and poetic musings of Bad Habit’s heroine will leave a lasting impression on readers. This is queer fiction at its painful, honest, celebratory best.
Share this Article:

In her first work to be translated into English, Spanish poet, playwright and author Alana S. Portero captures the complexities of trans girlhood and adolescence. Set in the working-class San Blas neighborhood of Madrid in the 1980s and 1990s, Bad Habit, is full of chaotic, messy, vibrant life. The unnamed protagonist, a trans girl who possesses an unshakable knowledge of herself but lacks a way to express it safely, has a singular first-person narrative voice. Her campy humor, biting observations and poetic musings will leave a lasting impression on readers.

Portero balances long, meaty passages of self-reflection with vivid scenes grounded in sensory detail. The resulting mix reads like a fictional memoir, a woman baring her soul with a wink. It even follows the expected beats of a coming-of-age memoir: the protagonist’s childhood and early realization that her gender is at odds with how the world sees her; her first bittersweet experience of love; her teenage exploits in Madrid’s downtown party scene; her painful attempts to blockade herself in the closet; her tentative forays into trans life.

Portero writes about the intersections of gender, sex, desire and longing—intersections that collide in the body—with incredible thoughtfulness and nuance. She also beautifully portrays trans sisterhood and found family. Many trans women play important roles in the protagonist’s life, often in surprising and unpredictable ways. These women are lonely, crass, loving, tough and each distinct. The care they give one another radiates off the page, even, and especially, when the narrative gets grim.

Sometimes Mara Faye Lethem’s translation feels a bit clunky; occasional oddly constructed sentences may take a moment to untangle. But this hardly matters, because the prose overall is so fresh. The protagonist’s ability to see herself and the people in her life both up close and from a distance is irresistible. Bad Habit is queer fiction at its painful, honest, celebratory best, rejoicing in the beauty of trans lives while simultaneously acknowledging the violence that the world too often thrusts upon them.

Trending Reviews

Get the Book

Bad Habit

Bad Habit

By Alana S. Portero
ISBN 9780063336124

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our newsletter to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.