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A nonfiction puzzle of stardom and sex

The Philadelphia Inquirer, USA
Mar. 13, 2005
Katie Haegel
www.orlandosentinel.com

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Sunday March 13, 2005

Book Review

Gloria Trevi is back.

Cleared of sex abuse charges in September after spending nearly five years in jail, the Mexican pop singer’s comeback album already has gone platinum. And now, the singer dubbed the “Mexican Madonna” for her wild image has launched a comeback tour that will include extensive dates in the United States beginning April 1 in Nevada.

Rise-to-stardom stories always sound incredible, but Trevi’s is over-the-top. In the 1990s, when she became “the best known living Mexican in the world,” she told a rags-to-riches story of begging on the streets before taking her songbook to legendary producer and star-maker Sergio Andrade.

Together they broke the Latin mold of the prim, emotive female singer by engineering Trevi’s image, characterized by flamboyant behavior, ripped fishnets, and righteous post-feminist lyrics. Soon she was selling hundreds of thousands of records and starring in romantic comedies written for her.

Then, in 1999, Trevi’s pedal-to-the-metal career came to a screeching halt. Charged with the kidnapping, raping and brainwashing the young teens they’d taken into their performing arts training school, Trevi and Andrade fled to Brazil. After a year on the lam, they were arrested and spent years in jail fighting extradition charges.

That’s where Christopher McDougall, who covered Trevi’s story for The New York Times, picks up in Girl Trouble: The True Saga of Superstar Gloria Trevi and the Secret Teenage Sex Cult That Stunned the World. Pretending to be an old music-industry pal of Andrade’s, McDougall got into the famously fearsome Brazilian Papuda Correctional Facility to interview him. (McDougall speaks fluent Spanish and Portuguese.) He also finagled his way into Gloria’s cell, where she promised him the truth.

In unraveling the mystery, McDougall also got close to Aline Hernandez, who was a skinny 13-year-old when Gloria plucked her from a crowd for admission to the school. Aline alleged that Sergio made her strip for her “audition,” later raped her, forced her into group sex, beat her with electrical cords and, when she was 15, married her.

So what’s the weirdest thing about this story? Too close to call. Trevi defended Andrade to McDougall, saying he’d been misunderstood. But there’s good evidence that she received the same treatment as the other girls before she was forced into recruiting them.

Though McDougall makes good on the details with a painstakingly researched account of what happened, he really shines when he develops two psychological truths that lie at the heart of all this nasty business: Sergio’s methods of mental coercion, which resemble the brainwashing techniques used by cult leaders, and the particular vulnerability of 13-year-old girls to this type of abuse.

McDougall gives the book a powerful resonance by finding the larger cultural context of this singularly bizarre tale.

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