Book Review: The Go-Between by Veronica Chambers

 

Review by Araceli Méndez Hintermeister

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: She is the envy of every teenage girl in Mexico City. Her mother is a glamorous telenovela actress. Her father is the go-to voiceover talent for blockbuster films. Hers is a world of private planes, chauffeurs, paparazzi and gossip columnists. Meet Camilla del Valle, or Cammi to those who know her best.

When Cammi’s mom gets cast in an American television show and the family moves to LA, things change, and quickly. Her mom’s first role is playing a not-so-glamorous maid in a sitcom. Her dad tries to find work, but dreams about returning to Mexico. And at the posh, private Polestar Academy, Cammi’s new friends assume she is a scholarship kid, the daughter of a domestic.

At first Cammi thinks that playing along with the stereotypes will teach her new friends a lesson. But the more she lies, the more she wonders: Is she only fooling herself?

MY TWO CENTS: Like many immigrants, Cammi came to her new home in Los Angeles by plane. But unlike most immigrants, her mother’s job security as a telenovela star and her family’s wealth made her transition much smoother. Cammi does share in the immigrant story and her experiences begin to overlap with those of many other Mexican immigrants. Unfortunately, it is the stereotyping and xenophobia that she encounters the most. She is judged by her wealthy classmates at her new private school, immediately labeled as a scholarship kid who is low-income with parents in low-paying and stereotypical jobs and in need of handouts.

For Cammi, this is a great departure from what she usually has to deal with. No one is vying to know her to get closer to her famous mother. Instead, her mother is not the center of attention and she leaves her paparazzi world behind. However, in search of an escape, Cammi begins to promote the stereotypes that are often perpetuated about Mexicans. So in looking out for herself, Cammi forgets about her community and her roots.

It takes long for Cammi to learn her lesson. If it wasn’t for other Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans who have to fight regularly to defeat the stereotypes and get others to see beyond them, she may not have known how her actions perpetuated racism. Albeit slowly, Cammi learns to understand her role not only as a Mexican, but as an immigrant and compatriota to her community.

TEACHING TIPS: Cammi brings into perspective that not all immigrants come into this country in the same manner or with the same opportunities. Some immigrants come with established work or educational opportunities, while others may have left those exact opportunities behind to immigrate to the United States. While Cammi is perhaps not the best role model for the majority of the book, she does allow us to question a diversity of immigrants and their experiences. In a time when our political discord says that immigrants from Mexico are the worst of the pack, what is Cammi bringing to light? Cammi’s story is merely one of many.

RECOMMENDED READING:

 

TransientABOUT THE AUTHOR: Veronica Chambers is a prolific author, best known for her critically acclaimed memoir, Mama’s Girl which has been a course adopted by hundreds of high schools and colleges throughout the country. The New Yorker called Mama’s Girl, “a troubling testament to grit and mother love… one of the finest and most evenhanded in the genre in recent years.” Born in Panama and raised in Brooklyn, her work often reflects her Afro-Latina heritage.

She coauthored the award-winning memoir Yes Chef with chef Marcus Samuelsson as well as Samuelsson’s young adult memoir Make It Messy, and has collaborated on four New York Times bestsellers, most recently 32 Yolks, which she cowrote with chef Eric Ripert. She has been a senior editor at the New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, and Glamour. Born in Panama and raised in Brooklyn, she writes often about her Afro-Latina heritage. She speaks, reads, and writes Spanish, but she is truly fluent in Spanglish. She is currently a JSK Knight fellow at Stanford University.

 

 

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Araceli Méndez Hintermeister is a librarian and archivist with a background in public, academic, and culinary libraries.She has an MA in history and MLIS from Simmons College where she focused her studies on the role of libraries and archives in the cultural preservation of the U.S.-Mexican border. Additionally, she holds a BA in Ethnic Studies from Brown University.  Her research is greatly influenced by her hometown of Laredo, TX which has led her to work in serving immigrants and underrepresented communities. Her current work involves exploring cultural identity through oral history in her project, Third Culture. You can find Araceli on Instagram. 

Book Review: Pitch Dark by Courtney Alameda

 

Review by Mark Oshiro

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Set against a future of marauding space scavengers and deadly aliens who kill with sound, here is a frightening, fast-paced YA adventure from the author of the acclaimed horror novel, Shutter.

Tuck has been in stasis on the USS John Muir, a ship that houses Earth’s most valued artifacts—its natural resources. Parks and mountains are preserved in space.

Laura belongs to a shipraiding family, who are funded by a group used to getting what they want. And they want what’s on the Muir.

Tuck and Laura didn’t bargain on working together, or battling mutant aliens who use sound to kill. But their plan is the only hope for their crews, their families, and themselves.

In space, nobody can hear you scream . . . but on the John Muir, the screams are the last thing you’ll hear.

MY TWO CENTS: I read Shutter years ago and was blown away by the seemingly effortless nature of Courtney Alameda’s genre-bending craft. She managed to craft a world that made an unquestionable amount of sense, and it combined disparate elements you don’t often see in the same story. Pitch Dark is no exception. Somehow, Alameda has been able to borrow the visceral, gory, and heart-stopping brilliance of a film like Alien and mix it with the adventure of Tomb Raider or Uncharted. Oh, and there’s also a generation ship. (Sort of.) And horrific monsters. And burgeoning love. And commentary on subjugation, imperialism, and racism.

AND THIS IS ALL IN THE SAME BOOK.

Pitch Dark wastes no time, and while there’s a bit of a steep learning curve at the beginning—the book has alternating first-person narratives that don’t seem connected at all—the worldbuilding pays off just past thirty pages into the book. We are introduced to the shipraiding universe of Laura Cruz, who is exuberant about her love for what her family does. (It’s a neat twist on the trope of kids hating the family business.) She thrives when she gets to dig deep into the history of humanity… which is a big deal within Pitch Dark, set over four hundred years in the future. Humanity is haphazardly spread about the galaxy after a terrorist attack forced them to abandon Earth, so the Cruz family mission is an integral part of the story.

Then there’s Tuck, the nerdy, reference-happy member of the John Muir, one of the ships that left Earth nearly four hundred years prior. He awakes from stasis to find out he’s been unconscious far longer than he was supposed to be. Even worse, something contaminated the stasis machines, and his fellow humans have…well, let’s just say they’ve evolved since then.

Of the two, I preferred Laura’s narration more than Tuck’s, though Tuck grew on me over time. In Laura Cruz, Alameda has crafted a memorable and awe-inspiring character, one I hope is the focus of other books in the future. (Pitch Dark is a standalone, but this could easily be a multi-book series.) Laura’s Spanglish is comforting to read, since I grew up with it in Southern California, and the Cruz family is an eternal delight. If you’re looking for a book with a loving Latinx family, look no further than Pitch Dark.

And if you want an addictive, insightful page-turner, get Pitch Dark for that reason, too. This book is downright horrifying, and when you learn what the Muir crew became, it becomes a significant source of tension and terror within the novel. The two storylines intersect (literally so!) in a shocking way, and seeing each character deal with the world of the other character’s ship is satisfying and exciting. It helps that Alameda manages to imbue all of this with an inventive social commentary about the nature of imperialism and control, most of which appears in Laura’s POV. Who controls a story? What version gets told? And how do you resist a narrative that purports to make you a villain to everyone else?

Above all: I had a blast reading this book, which I devoured in just two sittings. I’ve been itching for more YA horror, and Alameda absolutely delivers. The pacing is incredibly quick, the dialogue is snappy and contains an in-universe context for all the pop culture references, and there are a few sequences in here that made me want to crawl under the covers and never come out. Bravo, Courtney Alameda.

TEACHING TIPS: I imagine that most teachers might shy away from a horror novel, and admittedly, Pitch Dark is very, very violent and gory. But the visceral story is part of the extended metaphor for the environment of current day politics. Alameda crafts a subplot between Laura Cruz and the Smithson family that touches on issues of consent, sexual assault, and colonialism, particularly since the Smithson family is horrifically desperate to do whatever they can to center anthropology on themselves and their own power. There’s a lot of potential for discussion in the interactions between the Cruz family and Tuck, which touch on racism, stereotypes, and white savior tropes.

Courtney Author Photos2013_117.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: A veteran bookseller and librarian, Courtney Alameda now spends her days writing thriller and horror novels. Her debut novel, Shutter, was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award and hailed as a “standout in the genre” by School Library Journal. Her forthcoming novels include the science fiction/horror mashup, Pitch Dark (Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends 2018), and Seven Deadly Shadows, an urban fantasy set in Japan. (Co-authored with Valynne Maetani. HarperTeen 2018). Courtney holds a degree in English literature with an emphasis in creative writing. She is represented by John M. Cusick of Folio Literary. A northern California native, she now resides in Utah with her husband, a legion of books, and a tiny five-pound cat with a giant personality. Member HWA, SFWA, SCBWI; and SDCC Creative Professional.

WHERE TO GET IT: Pitch Dark releases February 20! To find it, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

Oshiro_Mark.jpgABOUT THE REVIEWER: Mark Oshiro is the Hugo-nominated writer of the online Mark Does Stuff universe (Mark Reads and Mark Watches), where he analyzes book and television series unspoiled. He was the nonfiction editor of Queers Destroy Science Fiction! and the co-editor of Speculative Fiction 2015. He is the President of the Con or Bust Board of Directors and is usually busy trying to fulfill his lifelong goal to pet every dog in the world. His YA Contemporary debut, Anger is a Gift, is out May 22, 2018 with Tor Teen.

 

Book Review: The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos

 

Review by Mark Oshiro

The Disturbed Girl's Dictionary CoverDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Macy’s school officially classifies her as “disturbed,” but Macy isn’t interested in how others define her. She’s got more pressing problems: her mom can’t move off the couch, her dad’s in prison, her brother’s been kidnapped by Child Protective Services, and now her best friend isn’t speaking to her. Writing in a dictionary format, Macy explains the world in her own terms—complete with gritty characters and outrageous endeavors. With an honesty that’s both hilarious and fearsome, slowly Macy reveals why she acts out, why she can’t tell her incarcerated father that her mom’s cheating on him, and why her best friend needs protection . . . the kind of protection that involves Macy’s machete.

MY TWO CENTS: The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary is unlike any YA I’ve read in 2017. A raw, unflinching, and surprisingly hilarious book, it’s organized as a series of definitions, like a dictionary, but with vignettes instead of sentence-long explanations. This is an ambitious book with a concept that is effortlessly pulled off, and it has one of the most compelling and authentic voices I’ve come across in a long time. The entire book is presented as the writings of Macy Cashmere MYOFB in real time, and I never once questioned it; that’s just how good this story is. Macy is self-aware of her challenging predicaments—a mother who seems to care more about the men who visit her than her own daughter, a brother stuck in another family’s home due to a CPS intervention, a father in prison—but the book is vibrant in discussing such weighty issues. As dark as this book gets at times (I flat-out bawled the final thirty pages or so), Nonieqa Ramos never lets this book fall into despair. No, Macy is unbelievably alive, and the energy conveyed through Ramos’s immersive writing is one of many things that makes this a compelling, electrifying read. There’s a chapter here where Ramos manages to reference a machete, Fabuloso, and Agüeybaná in the span of a few pages, and not once does it come across inauthentic.

There’s no mistaking how vulgar and gritty the text feels at times, but it’s all part of the convincing, believable world that Ramos builds. These people feel so real, so completely fleshed out that you begin to ache for them before you’re halfway through The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary. And the bulk of that sympathy lands on Macy. While Ramos doesn’t shy away from portraying the full experience of a young girl with ADHD, compulsive behavior, and who has been deemed “emotionally disturbed,” I can only imagine the sheer power this must give to people like Macy who have never seen themselves in a book, let alone as the protagonist. Simply put, this book feels larger-than-life, the kind of endeavor you’d expect from someone who had been publishing novels for years. Somehow, this is Ramos’s debut, which makes me eager to see what they’ve got up their sleeves.

For now, though, this is a book that is easy to devour, but will haunt you long after you finish it. It is unique, shocking, and heartbreaking; it is also the kind of novel I want kids everywhere to read. It is certain to be one of my top recommended novels for 2018.

TEACHING TIPS: There are a number of issues that Ramos speaks on through Macy that are ripe for a moderated class discussion: drug use, sex work, mental illness (and the stigmas that come with having a mental illness), foster care, misogyny, and racism. The book is populated with a diverse cast—many of these people are not common in YA in general!—and the language/slang is modern and convincing, so I expect students will find themselves captivated by Macy’s unique voice. Because of the way that the book is broken up, it will be easy to assign writing prompts or topics based solely on one of the definitions. I would recommend discussions about “CLANG,” “DOLPHIN,” “FEED,” and “GOOD-BYE.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: NoNieqa Ramos spent her childhood in the Bronx, where she started her own publishing company and sold books for twenty-five cents until the nuns shut her down. With the support of her single father and her tias, she earned dual master’s degrees in creative writing and education at the University of Notre Dame. As a teacher, she has dedicated herself to bringing gifted-and-talented education to minority students and expanding access to literature, music, and theater for all children. A frequent foster parent, NoNieqa lives in Ashburn, Virginia, with her family.

WHERE TO GET IT: The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary releases a week from today! To find it, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

Oshiro_Mark.jpgABOUT THE REVIEWER: Mark Oshiro is the Hugo-nominated writer of the online Mark Does Stuff universe (Mark Reads and Mark Watches), where he analyzes book and television series unspoiled. He was the nonfiction editor of Queers Destroy Science Fiction! and the co-editor of Speculative Fiction 2015. He is the President of the Con or Bust Board of Directors and is usually busy trying to fulfill his lifelong goal to pet every dog in the world. His YA Contemporary debut, Anger is a Gift, is out May 22, 2018 with Tor Teen.

 

Book Review & Giveaway: The Meaning of Consuelo by Judith Ortiz Cofer

 

Judith Ortiz Cofer was the first author to win the Pura Belpré Award for her first young adult book An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio. On December 30, 2016, she passed away at the young age of 64, due to cancer. This week, we celebrate her life and work with reviews of four of her books and a giveaway. Please scroll to the end of this post to enter!

Reviewed by Toni Margarita Plummer

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOKLa nina seria, the serious child. That’s how Consuelo’s mother has cast her pensive, book-loving daughter, while Consuelo’s younger sister Mili, is seen as vivacious—a ray of tropical sunshine. Two daughters: one dark, one light; one to offer comfort and consolation, the other to charm and delight. But something is not right in this Puerto Rican family.

Set in the 1950s, a time when American influence is diluting Puerto Rico’s rich island culture, Consuelo watches her own family’s downward spiral. It is Consuelo who notices as her beautiful sister Mili’s vivaciousness turns into mysterious bouts of hysteria and her playful invented language shift into an incomprehensible and chilling “language of birds.” Ultimately Consuelo must choose: Will she fulfill the expectations of her family—offering consolation as their tragedy unfolds? Or will she risk becoming la fulana, the outsider, like the harlequin figure of her neighbor, Mario/Maria Sereno, who flaunts his tight red pedal pushers and empty brassiere as he refuses the traditional macho role of his culture.

This affecting novel is a lively celebration of Puerto Rico as well as an archetypal story of loss, the loss each of us experiences on our journey from the island of childhood to the uncharted territory of adulthood.

MY TWO CENTS: The Meaning of Consuelo is Judith Ortiz Cofer’s first young adult novel. It won the 2003 Américas Award and was included on the New York Public Library’s “Books for the Teen Age 2004 List.”

It is set in the 1950s, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The time period is evoked in the conservative social views and in the unquestioning obedience children are expected to give to their parents. Mami is described as speaking like the Pope, with infallibility. Also evoking the 50s is the consumerism of household appliances meant to make life simpler. There is a passage about the family’s vacuum cleaner. Papi, in his enthusiasm for new gadgets, buys it from a door-to-door salesman, even though their house of ceramic tiles has no need of it. Mami uses it anyway, on a small rug, to please him. The senselessness of this is both funny and sad.

The novel begins when Consuelo is eight and ends when she is a teenager. The first character we meet is actually the neighbor Maria Sereno, who was born as Mario. Maria is an outrageous, highly sexual, and thoroughly enjoyable character. He (the book refers to Maria as “he”) embodies the term fulano, which is a major theme of the novel. The women hire Maria to do their nails, but only if their husbands are away, and he must use the back door. They ignore him in public. This is confusing to Consuelo and her sister Mili, who don’t yet understand the dualities of adults. Maria is not a major character in the story, in that he only appears now and then. But his outsider status is illustrative of the closed-mindedness of the community. When at the end of the book we glimpse a ray of hope for Maria, we find hope for this whole world.

Consuelo is the designated caretaker for Mili, who is four years younger. Mili, a “Puerto Rican Shirley Temple,” is a lively, imaginative character and we understand why the family is protective of her. Mili lives in her own world, is often unaware of her surroundings, and can wander off. Her behavior becomes more and more concerning and we feel the real pain of her parents, who don’t know what is wrong or how to care for her. When they are told she may have psychological problems, Papi doesn’t want to discuss the possibility. Ortiz Cofer hints throughout at a coming tragedia, which is tied to Mili. This builds an ominous feeling, a feeling which is justified when, indeed, a tragedy strikes this fragile family. Consuelo has been typecast as the doting daughter, the responsible one, the one who will sacrifice herself. But that is not the life she chose and she risks becoming a fulana herself as she tries to assert her independence.

Her cousin Patricio is another fulano. He is Consuelo’s only playmate, aside from her sister. They play with puppets Patricio makes. I loved reading about how they enact scenes at the hotel where Papi works, some puppets playing the roles of annoyed American tourists. The family begins to shun Patricio when they discover he is gay. When his father takes him to New York for a fresh start, we are happy to see him escape this stifling atmosphere. But Consuelo grieves at being left behind.

Her home life is not harmonious. Papi craves an American lifestyle, but Mami does not share his admiration for all things American. Abuelo, Mami’s father, is an outspoken critic of the U.S. and vigilant about maintaining the culture of the island. Consuelo immerses herself in his library, which is filled with Puerto Rican literature and history. The Americanization of the island looms like a threat or a promise, depending on your viewpoint, as does Papi’s desire to move the family to New York.

This novel has a more literary tone than some of Judith Ortiz Cofer’s other young adult books. It’s marked by both elegance and solemnity. There is a great sense of loss here. The loss of a way of life, and the loss of a family. This is my favorite of her books and the one I would most recommend to adults. Engrossing, suspenseful, and devastating, Consuelo’s story is both an immersion into one Puerto Rican family and a timeless coming-of-age tale.

WHERE TO GET IT: To find The Meaning of Consuelo, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

judith ortiz coferABOUT THE AUTHOR: Judith Ortiz Cofer is an award-winning author known for her stories about coming-of-age experiences in the barrio and her writings about the cultural conflicts of immigrants. She is the author of many distinguished titles for young adults such as An Island Like You, Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood, and The Line in the Sun. She was the Regents’ and Franklin Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Georgia. In 2010, she was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.

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toni margarita plummerABOUT THE REVIEWER: Toni Margarita Plummer is a Macondo Fellow, a winner of the Miguel Mármol Prize, and the author of the story collection The Bolero of Andi Rowe. She hails from South El Monte, a working-class suburb of Los Angeles, and worked as an acquiring editor at a major publisher for more than ten years. Toni now freelance edits and lives in the Hudson Valley with her family. Visit her website at ToniMargaritaPlummer.Wordpress.com.

 

We will be giving away a copy of each of the Judith Ortiz Cofer books reviewed here this week to one lucky winner! The titles are: Call Me MaríaIf I Could Fly, and The Meaning of Consuelo and the picture book A Bailar/Let’s Dance.

 

ENTER HERE TO WIN FOUR JUDITH ORTIZ COFER BOOKS!

Book Review & Giveaway: If I Could Fly by Judith Ortiz Cofer

 

Judith Ortiz Cofer was the first author to win the Pura Belpré Award for her first young adult book An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio. On December 30, 2016, she passed away at the young age of 64, due to cancer. This week, we celebrate her life and work with reviews of four of her books and a giveaway. Please scroll to the end of this post to enter!

Reviewed by Toni Margarita Plummer

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Fifteen-year-old Doris is used to taking care of herself. Her musician parents have always spent more time singing in nightclubs than watching after her. But when her ailing mother goes home to Puerto Rico to get well and pursue a singing career there, and her father finds a new girlfriend, Doris is more alone than she’s ever been. Disconnected from her family and her best friends, who are intertwined in terrifying relationships with a violent classmate, Doris finds refuge in taking care of homing pigeons on her apartment building’s roof. As Doris tries to make sense of it all, she learns that, just like the pigeons, she might have to fly far distances before she finds out where she belongs.

MY TWO CENTS: If I Could Fly is the sequel to Judith Ortiz Cofer’s award-winning YA short story collection An Island Like You. Readers of the first book will remember invisible-feeling Doris, her artistic friend Arturo, her self-described “dangerous” friend Yolanda, and her musician parents. The title comes from something her mother says when frustrated with her father: Si yo tuviera alas. Literally, if I had wings.

Doris proves herself the worthy heroine of a novel. Her bewilderment and sorrow over her mother’s unexplained departure immediately makes her sympathetic. Her strength makes her admirable. Papi doesn’t know how to relate to her and is often busy managing two bands. Doris can deal with that, but what is less tolerable is when the singer who replaces Mami also ends up spending a lot of time in their apartment and tries to play mother. There are problems at school, too. Arturo is bullied by a member of the neighborhood gang. This escalates into two violent crimes committed by Doris’s classmates, but Ortiz Cofer doesn’t handle these in a preachy way. She seems to understand that troubled teenagers sometimes do stupid, even hateful, things and does not demonize the guilty parties. If one is looking for a lesson, readers can relate to having friends with problems. It is best to treat these friends with compassion, but also to remove yourself from dangerous situations.

Between the drama at school and with her parents, the apartment rooftop is the one place where Doris can find peace. There she spends time with Doña Iris, an elderly woman who thinks Doris possesses facultades, or clairvoyance. Together they examine the shiny things that Martha, the lead pigeon, brings back to the coop. It is lovely to see how Doris relates to the much older woman, and the comfort they give each other. (Doris’s grandmother in Puerto Rico is another memorable, sassier, older woman character.) In the part titles, Ortiz Cofer uses quotes from Derek Goodwin’s book Pigeons and Doves of the World to describe bird behavior. City pigeons aren’t normally thought of as that interesting or beautiful, but this information makes you appreciate them in a new way and enriches Doris’s story with potent metaphors about home and flight. Doris is torn. Should she stay in New Jersey with her mostly absent father or go to Puerto Rico to live with Mami? And does Mami even want her? She has the chance to visit Puerto Rico and imagine a life there. What’s clear is that, with her parents living in different places, life is never going to be simple.

Judith Ortiz Cofer writes an emotional, thought-provoking story about a girl grappling with the disintegration of her parents’ marriage, a strange but well-meaning potential stepparent, and her mother’s scary health issues. No less daunting is the fear that her mother is choosing her singing career over her. Amid the bad are bright spots, like a passionate drama teacher who urges Doris and her classmates to reimagine West Side Story. Embracing her creative abilities and imagination is what saves Doris, and this story will especially resonate with creative types who face similar obstacles.

WHERE TO GET IT: To find If I Could Fly, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes and Noble.

judith ortiz coferABOUT THE AUTHOR: Judith Ortiz Cofer is an award-winning author known for her stories about coming-of-age experiences in the barrio and her writings about the cultural conflicts of immigrants. She is the author of many distinguished titles for young adults such as An Island Like You, Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood, and The Line in the Sun. She was the Regents’ and Franklin Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Georgia. In 2010, she was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.

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toni margarita plummerABOUT THE REVIEWER: Toni Margarita Plummer is a Macondo Fellow, a winner of the Miguel Mármol Prize, and the author of the story collection The Bolero of Andi Rowe. She hails from South El Monte, a working-class suburb of Los Angeles, and worked as an acquiring editor at a major publisher for more than ten years. Toni now freelance edits and lives in the Hudson Valley with her family. Visit her website at ToniMargaritaPlummer.Wordpress.com.

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We will be giving away a copy of each of the Judith Ortiz Cofer books reviewed here this week to one lucky winner! The titles are: Call Me MaríaIf I Could Fly, and The Meaning of Consuelo and the picture book A Bailar/Let’s Dance.

ENTER HERE TO WIN FOUR JUDITH ORTIZ COFER BOOKS!

 

Book Review & Giveaway: Call Me María by Judith Ortiz Cofer

 

Judith Ortiz Cofer was the first author to win the Pura Belpré Award for her first young adult book An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio. On December 30, 2016, she passed away at the young age of 64, due to cancer. This week, we celebrate her life and work with reviews of four of her books and a giveaway. Please scroll to the end of this post to enter!

Reviewed by Toni Margarita Plummer

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: María is a girl caught between two worlds: Puerto Rico, where she was born, and New York, where she now lives in a basement apartment in the barrio. While her mother remains on the island, María lives with her father, the super of their building. As she struggles to lose her island accent, Mara does her best to find her place within the unfamiliar culture of the barrio. Finally, with the Spanglish of the barrio people ringing in her ears, she finds the poet within herself.

In lush prose and spare, evocative poetry, Pura Belpré Award-winner Judith Ortiz Cofer weaves a powerful and emotionally satisfying novel, bursting with life and hope.

MY TWO CENTS: Meet María Alegre and María Triste. She is María Alegre when as a young girl she makes her mother laugh by insisting they play Celia Cruz and dance mambo. María Triste emerges as it becomes clearer that Papi’s unrelenting depression means he will move back to New York City, his hometown. María’s mother, an English teacher and island girl, will not leave Puerto Rico, and María makes the decision to follow her father, with the plan of one day attending a good American university. As the cover states, this is a novel in letters, poems, and prose, and so María’s story unfolds through letters to and from Mamí, in poems María writes, and in short chapters about her friends, school, and life in a basement apartment in New York City, so different from the life she knew on the beaches of Puerto Rico. The vignette structure could draw comparisons to The House on Mango Street, and also like that book, this offers a portrait of a neighborhood that is burgeoning with life but also tinged by sadness.

María’s resilience is impressive. Despite her loneliness and strange new surroundings, she cooks and cleans for Papí and helps him manage the tenants’ concerns. The assembly of characters is vivid. There’s her wild best friend Whoopee Dominguez, or Whoopee the Magnificent, the sweet-talking Papi-lindo who lives on the fifth floor, Uma and her single mother from India who want Puerto Rican husbands and are practicing their salsa steps, and Mr. Golden, María’s English teacher who recognizes her gift with poetry. Papí, El Súper in a blue uniform, takes up guitar and plays old Puerto Rican songs for his tenants, eliciting a nostalgia for an island that many of them have never even seen. The question of whether he and Mamí will reunite does hang in the air for awhile. But we know that María will be strong enough to carry on and even flourish if that never happens. She is a keen observer of the world and people around her, and it’s a joy to see how her lessons at school ignite her imagination.

Heartbreaking, whimsical, and inventive, this is a beautiful novel which succeeds on many grounds. It’s funny and fast-moving, but boasts true emotional depth. Call Me María is just one example of Judith Ortiz Cofer’s amazing ability to capture the life of young Puerto Ricans in the barrio.

WHERE TO GET IT: To find Call Me María, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

judith ortiz coferABOUT THE AUTHOR: Judith Ortiz Cofer is an award-winning author known for her stories about coming-of-age experiences in the barrio and her writings about the cultural conflicts of immigrants. She is the author of many distinguished titles for young adults such as An Island Like You, Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood, and The Line in the Sun. She was the Regents’ and Franklin Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Georgia. In 2010, she was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.

 

 

toni margarita plummerABOUT THE REVIEWER: Toni Margarita Plummer is a Macondo Fellow, a winner of the Miguel Mármol Prize, and the author of the story collection The Bolero of Andi Rowe. She hails from South El Monte, a working-class suburb of Los Angeles, and worked as an acquiring editor for more than ten years at a major publisher. Toni now freelance edits and lives in the Hudson Valley with her family. Visit her website at ToniMargaritaPlummer.Wordpress.com.

 

We will be giving away a copy of each of the Judith Ortiz Cofer books reviewed here this week to one lucky winner! The titles are: Call Me María, If I Could Fly, and The Meaning of Consuelo and the picture book A Bailar/Let’s Dance.

 

ENTER HERE TO WIN FOUR JUDITH ORTIZ COFER BOOKS!