The Pitbull Impersonator and Killer Whale Who Both Miss Their Moms


OK, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A young Pitbull impersonator in Miami named Ismael grows obsessed with a killer whale held in captivity named Lolita while he attempts to both remake himself in the image of “Tony Montana for the new millennium” and untangle the mystery of his mother’s death more than a decade ago.

So goes the plot of Jennine Capó Crucet’s fourth book, “Say Hello to My Little Friend,” an impossible-to-define but highly digestible novel about Cuban heritage, migration, motherhood and the heartbreaking way young men float through life lost and desperate for meaning.

Izzy, who’s 20, was born in Cuba but has spent most of his life in Miami, where he was raised by his mother’s half sister. He recalls only fragments of how he arrived stateside on a raft when he was 7. To earn “easy extra money,” he works as an unauthorized Pitbull impersonator, but when he receives a cease-and-desist letter from the rapper, he pivots and fixates on becoming as rich and powerful as “Miami’s modern-day Scarface.” In an effort to find his own exotic animal like Montana’s signature tiger, he heads to Miami’s Seaquarium, where he sees Lolita and forms a psychic connection with her: He remembers meeting the orca in her enclosure years earlier, during a field trip when he first moved to the United States. She recognizes in him someone who is also lost.

Both are trapped in their own ways. Izzy wants to know if his mother loved him, and why she brought him to the United States in the first place. But those questions create a pen of their own; like Lolita, he seems to swim in circles, hoping for something to set him free. Together their parallel stories shape a commentary about what happens to us when we’re stuck in cages we were never designed for in the first place.

Back to top button