Book Review: Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar

 

Reviewed by Maria Ramos-Chertok

Lucky Broken Girl CoverDESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHERS: Ruthie Mizrahi and her family recently emigrated from Castro’s Cuba to New York City. Just when she’s finally beginning to gain confidence in her mastery of English—and enjoying her reign as her neighborhood’s hopscotch queen—a horrific car accident leaves her in a body cast and confined her to her bed for a long recovery. As Ruthie’s world shrinks because of her inability to move, her powers of observation and her heart grow larger and she comes to understand how fragile life is, how vulnerable we all are as human beings, and how friends, neighbors, and the power of the arts can sweeten even the worst of times.

MY TWO CENTS:  I read this book and couldn’t put it down and then gave it to my 11-year-old son to read and he couldn’t put it down. His review was, “It’s really good,” and while I wholeheartedly agree with him, I’ll elaborate. Ruth Behar does a great job capturing the voice and thoughts of a young girl immigrating to the United States from Cuba. Ruti, the young protagonist, shares her insights about what it is like to be smart, yet treated as if she were “dumb” because she can’t speak English.

As a reader, I found myself joyfully cheering for her to succeed and then devastated when she is injured in an accident, only to find myself re-engaged in rooting for her as she embarks on a journey to regain to her childhood body and the ease of movement she once had. I fell in love with her bohemian neighbor whose child-like appreciation for fun and non-traditional ways of living made me want to copy his interior design tips and decorate my house with piñatas. Behar doesn’t sugar coat the immense challenges of immigrant life, including financial troubles, family tensions and jealousies. Nor does she hide the emotional complexity of love, sacrifice and resentment that Ruti’s mother experiences when she finds herself in the role of 24-hour caretaker for her bed-bound daughter. Behar is also able to capture the volatility of friendships and did a great job bringing me along as Ruti first adores a girlfriend, then feels betrayed by her, and ultimately understands her motivations. The added texture to the story is that Ruti is a Cuban-Jew, which adds another dimension to her arrival in the United States as she encounters friends from different religious (and cultural) backgrounds. As she experiences the beauty of multicultural friendship, she also learns about the boundaries such friendships can have.

In writing with such honesty, Behar allows the reader to examine his/her own assumptions, biases and prejudices and pushes us to consider what is gained by the immigrant experience, but also what is lost in that transition.  This book would have automatic appeal to an immigrant child, but clearly a much wider appeal given that both my son and I are U.S. born and we were immediately captivated by the story Behar has to tell.

TEACHING TIPS:  This book is a wonderful companion to courses related to English, U.S History, Social Studies, Civics/Civic Engagement, Religious Studies, Economics and Health. I’d recommend assigning a few chapters at a time and bringing students along the various stages of Ruti’s arrival in the United States. It is a particularly compelling story to use for any discussion of immigration into the United States and what life is like from the perspective of a young immigrant.  There are rich conversations to be had related to assumptions, biases and prejudices. It is also a great way to teach empathy, as readers get a sense of what it is like to be in need of care taking and to be the care taker as they are learning about life from the perspective of a newcomer.

From an economic standpoint, there are many layers of lessons and conversations that can be facilitated about the role of consumerism and “wanting” something. What are the actual costs of the thing and what are the hidden costs and the opportunity costs? In this regard, I’m thinking, in particular, about the role that the family automobile played in Ruti’s life.

There are also discussions about the impact of making choices:  the choices to drink, how much to drink, whether to drive when drinking and what the consequences of various choices can be.

There are also some very rich conversations to have about friendship:

  • How do you know when someone is your friend?
  • What’s the difference between a friend and an acquaintance?
  • What role do friends play during hard times?
  • What happens if something happens to a friend that is hard for you to deal with?

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Lucky Broken Girl, check your local public library, your local bookstore or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

ruth-bioporchABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website): As a storyteller, traveler, memoirist, poet, teacher, and public speaker, Ruth Behar is acclaimed for the compassion she brings to her quest to understand the depth of the human experience. She now makes her fiction debut with Lucky Broken Girl, a novel for young readers about how the worst of wounds can teach a child a lesson about the fragile, precious beauty of life. Born in Havana, Cuba, she grew up in New York, and has also lived in Spain and Mexico. Her recent memoirs for adults, An Island Called Home and Traveling Heavy, explore her return journeys to Cuba and her search for home as an immigrant and a traveler. She was the first Latina to win a MacArthur “Genius” Grant, and her honors also include a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a Distinguished Alumna Award from Wesleyan University, and an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from the Hebrew Union College. She is an anthropology professor at the University of Michigan and lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

 

Displaying MariaRamos-5.jpgABOUT THE REVIEWER: Maria Ramos-Chertok is a writer who lives in Mill Valley, CA. She is the founder and facilitator of The Butterfly Series, a writing and creative arts workshop for women who want to explore what’s next in their life journey. Her work, most recently, has appeared in San Francisco’s 2016 Listen to Your Mother show (www.listentoyourmothershow.com) and in the Apogee Journal of Colombia University. Her piece Meet me by the River will be published in Deborah Santana’s anthology All the Women in my Family Sing  (2017) and she will be reading in San Francisco’s LitCrawl in October 2016.  For more information please visit www.mariaramoschertok.com

Happy Hanukkah from Latinos in Kid Lit!

by Zoraida Córdova

Happy Hanukkah!

Stockphoto.com

Hanukkah is the eight-day festival of light celebrated during the beginning in the Jewish month of Kislev.

Let’s get serious for a minute. I wanted to do some research about the intersection between Latino and Jewish people.

Latinos and Jewish histories have been intertwined for a long time, and most of it is full of wrong-doing by part of the Spanish. There’s the horrific moment in Spanish history when in 1492 the king of Spain ordered Jewish people to convert or to leave or be put to death. (Why don’t we learn from history?) Because of this, many Jews did convert to Catholicism to stay in their homes. In 2008, a study showed that 20 percent of men in Spain have Sephardic ancestry. In the Latin Americas, those who did go over to the New World kept their faith hidden. More recently, there was the immigration, asylum, refuge, and forced displacement of Jewish people during and after World War II. Thousands of refugees and Nazi camp survivors were able to find homes in South American countries though others barred their entry due to anti-Semitism.

During a visit to Ecuador in my teens, I remember driving past a Jewish home. How could I possibly know that they are Jewish? They had a beautiful Star of David in a mosaic on the outside gate. I say gate, but I mean a wall. Homes are mostly made of cement in Ecuador because of the humidity. Anyway, the neighbors largely mysticized them because they mainly kept to themselves. We have this perception of Jewish people as being separate. But when we spend the entire history of the WORLD marginalizing and trying to convert a group of people, and taking away their lives and rights, how can we even begin to call ourselves neighbors and allies? Today there is still a lack of intersectionality between minority groups and Jewish people.

Meanwhile, I keep thinking about how Jewish culture has enriched Latin culture. As a kid, I listened to lots of salsa music because of my mom and grandma. They listened to the Fania All Stars religiously. There was this guy nicknamed “El Judio Maravilloso” which translates to “The Marvelous Jew.” His name was Larry Harlow and his love and study of Afro-Cuban music spawned some of the best salsa we have. If you love Celia Cruz, she sang a beautiful version of Hava Nagila. For more on the Latino-Jewish music connection, listen to this NPR podcast: Bagels and Bongos. Music has a way of bringing people together.

This brings me to books. As we mix cultures and religions, where is the representation of the growing Latino-Jewish community? I have Ecuadorian-Jewish cousins. My friend (Jewish) and his wife (Bolivian) are celebrating their daughter’s first Hanukkah. They need books that show her different identities. When we talk about representation and diversity, we have to mean it. Latino-Jewish history is steeped in a painful past, but our present has wrought some excellent music and literature. And we need more. Here are eight books, by or about Jewish-Latinos, to get your started.

 

“My name is Marisol McDonald, and I don’t match. At least, that’s what everyone tells me.”
Marisol McDonald has flaming red hair and nut-brown skin. Polka dots and stripes are her favorite combination. She prefers peanut butter and jelly burritos in her lunch box. And don’t even think of asking her to choose one or the other activity at recess–she’ll just be a soccer playing pirate princess, thank you very much. To Marisol McDonald, these seemingly mismatched things make perfect sense together.
Unfortunately, they don’t always make sense to everyone else. Other people wrinkle their nose in confusion at Marisol–can’t she just be one or the other? Try as she might, in a world where everyone tries to put this biracial, Peruvian-Scottish-American girl into a box, Marisol McDonald doesn’t match. And that’s just fine with her.
A mestiza Peruvian American of European, Jewish, and Amerindian heritage, renowned author Monica Brown wrote this lively story to bring her own experience of being mismatched to life.

Goodreads * Amazon * B&N *

 

 

 

When Isobel is invited to Aunt Luisa’s for Hanukkah, she’s not sure what to expect. Aunt Luisa has recently arrived from Mexico. “At Aunt Luisa’s you’ll get to celebrate the Hanukkah Moon,” Isobel’s father promises. Isobel’s days at Aunt Luisa’s are filled with fun and surprises — a new camera, a dreidel pinata filled with sweets, and a mysterious late night visit to welcome the luna nueva, the new moon that appears on Hanukkah. An unusual Hanukkah story with a multi-cultural focus, this title celebrates a little-known custom of the Latin-Jewish community.

Goodreads * Amazon * B&N 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jalapeno bagels are the delicious coming together of two cultures as the son of a Jewish baker and his Mexican wife decides what to bring to school for International Day. This warm story, illustrated by rich watercolors, comes complete with recipes for all the items that Pablo helps his parents make. Full color.

Goodreads * Amazon * B&N 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Nono’s Kisses for Sephardic Children” is Flori Senor Rosenthal’s first of the Legacy and Literacy Scholastics Series. The book contains beautiful illustrations representing Ladino phrases. It was written to teach and encourage the usage of the Ladino language to children between the ages of 4 and 9. However, all ages will enjoy it and find it useful. Ladino or Judeo-Spanish is the language of Sephardic Jews. According to the United Nations, it is an endangered language. With each Ladino phrase found in the book, there is a question relating to its picture. This question, engages the parent and child into conversation. Ladino vocabulary words, pronunciations and English translations are provided to be used in these and other conversations and games between parents and their children. To make the learning experience even more fun, there is a hidden butterfly, in every illustration, to be found by the child. Ms. Senor Rosenthal’s father inspired her to write “Nono’s Kisses for Sephardic Children”. She wrote it to honor a tradition known specifically to Sephardic Jews. The book is an extraordinary teaching and learning tool for Ladino, and the Sephardic culture. However, those interested in the Spanish language and its history will also find this book interesting. Ms. Senor Rosenthal believes that her series will spark renewed interest in the Ladino language with the goal of having it removed from the endangered language list.

Goodreads * Amazon * B&N 

 

Lola Levine likes writing in her diario, sipping her mom’s cafe con leche, eating her dad’s matzo ball soup, and playing soccer with her team, the Orange Smoothies. So what if she doesn’t always fit in?

Lola is fierce on the field, but when a soccer game during recess gets too competitive, she accidentally hurts her classmate Juan Gomez. Now everyone is calling her Mean Lola Levine! Lola feels terrible, but with the help of her family, her super best friend, Josh Blot, and a little “pencil power,” she just might be able to turn it all around.

Goodreads * Amazon * B&N 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An eleven-year-old’s world is upended by political turmoil in this “lyrically ambitious tale of exile and reunification” (Kirkus Reviews) from an award-winning poet, based on true events in Chile.

Celeste Marconi is a dreamer. She lives peacefully among friends and neighbors and family in the idyllic town of Valparaiso, Chile—until one day when warships are spotted in the harbor and schoolmates start disappearing from class without a word. Celeste doesn’t quite know what is happening, but one thing is clear: no one is safe, not anymore.

The country has been taken over by a government that declares artists, protestors, and anyone who helps the needy to be considered “subversive” and dangerous to Chile’s future. So Celeste’s parents—her educated, generous, kind parents—must go into hiding before they, too, “disappear.” Before they do, however, they send Celeste to America to protect her.

As Celeste adapts to her new life in Maine, she never stops dreaming of Chile. But even after democracy is restored to her home country, questions remain: Will her parents reemerge from hiding? Will she ever be truly safe again?

Accented with interior artwork, steeped in the history of Pinochet’s catastrophic takeover of Chile, and based on many true events, this multicultural ode to the power of revolution, words, and love is both indelibly brave and heartwrenchingly graceful.

Goodreads * Amazon * B&N

 

Emily is a Jewish girl from the suburbs of New York. Her mother has family in Puerto Rico, but Emily has never had contact with them—- ever. Then Emily’s grandmother dies and Emily is forced to go to the Caribbean for her funeral. Buttoned-up Emily wants nothing to do with her big, noisy Puerto Rican family, until a special person shows her that one dance can change the beat of your heart.

Goodreads * Amazon * B&N 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shirin is an Iranian princess; Ingrid, a German-Canadian eccentric; and Vivien, a Cuban-Jewish New Yorker culinary phenom. The three are roommates at a Swiss boarding school, where they spend their summers learning more than French and European culture. As the girls’ paths cross and merge—summers together, school years separate—they navigate social and cultural differences and learn the confusing and conflicting legacies of their families’ pasts. In the spirit of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Shirin, Ingrid, and Vivien grow together even when they are apart, forming unbreakable bonds along the way.

Goodreads * Amazon * B&N *

 

 

 

 

 

 

317988_632439229822_92623787_nZoraida Córdova was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, where she learned to speak English by watching Disney’s The Little Mermaid and Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker on repeat. Her favorite things are sparkly like merdudes, Christmas, and New York City at night. She is the author ofThe Vicious DeepThe Savage Blue, The Vast and Brutal Sea, Luck on the Line, Love on the Ledgeand Life on the Level.

Book Review: I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin

By Sarah Hannah Gómez

18048909DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Celeste Marconi is a dreamer. She lives peacefully among friends and neighbors and family in the idyllic town of Valparaiso, Chile–until the time comes when even Celeste, with her head in the clouds, can’t deny the political unrest that is sweeping through the country. Warships are spotted in the harbor and schoolmates disappear from class without a word. Celeste doesn’t quite know what is happening, but one thing is clear: no one is safe, not anymore.

The country has been taken over by a government that declares artists, protestors, and anyone who helps the needy to be considered “subversive” and dangerous to Chile’s future. So Celeste’s parents–her educated, generous, kind parents–must go into hiding before they, too, “disappear.” To protect their daughter, they send her to America.

As Celeste adapts to her new life in Maine, she never stops dreaming of Chile. But even after democracy is restored to her home country, questions remain: Will her parents reemerge from hiding? Will she ever be truly safe again?

Accented with interior artwork, steeped in the history of Pinochet’s catastrophic takeover of Chile, and based on many true events, this multicultural ode to the power of revolution, words, and love is both indelibly brave and heartwrenchingly graceful.

MY TWO CENTS: This reads like a pretty classic middle grade novel in the tradition of Sharon Creech or Patricia Reilly Giff. Celeste has a very sweet and thoughtful way about her, and she narrates the day-to-day of her life with the eye of a girl who is young but observant. There is some beautiful scene setting in her house, where her grandmother, nanny, mother, and father dote on her; and at school, where she has a great teacher and the usual smattering of fun, doofy, and snobbish classmates. She has an idyllic life and loves it—until the president is assassinated and the dictator takes over.

Agosín does a good job of showing how this type of takeover happens gradually and all at once, and Celeste observes different things happening – like some classmates not showing up for school or the adults in her life all of a sudden being worried about her safety – and only slowly begins to put them together as being related to the same thing. When she moves to Maine, Celeste remains very observant and thoughtful about everything. Her descriptions are just beautiful.

But that’s also a weakness in the book – Celeste is so thoughtful that it doesn’t always feel like she has any emotion. Her parents have to go into hiding and she says she’s sad, but you don’t necessarily see it – the quality and style of her narration and her observations don’t change much depending on her mood. And it doesn’t help that the last quarter of the book goes from lyrical and fairly realistic to a totally Disney TV movie ending.

That said, there is plenty of good in this book. Latin@s? Check. And, unlike any books I remember reading from my childhood or much during my adulthood, Celeste’s family is also Jewish – her grandmother speaks to her in German and reminisces about escaping the Holocaust by coming to Chile. That parallel is what really gives the book its emotional impact. Celeste is very attached to her grandmother, and knowing that the grandmother is watching a country unravel for the second time is poignant. Acknowledging that part of Latin American history and giving Jewish-Latinas a heroine to root for is a great strength of this book, especially since it manages to use Spanish, Chilean cultural traditions, and Jewish traditions in a way that neither over explains to those of us who know it already nor under explains to those who are unfamiliar.

I would hand this book to any little girl who is already a fan of classic middle grade characters who love to write, like Betsy Ray or Harriet M. Welsch, or to fans of books by Julia Alvarez or Jeanne Birdsall.

AUTHOR: Marjorie Agosín was born in Maryland and raised in Chile. She and her parents, Moises and Frida Agosín, moved to the United States due to the overthrow of the Chilean government by General Pinochet’s military coup. Coming from a South American country and being Jewish, Agosín’s writings demonstrate a unique blending of these cultures. Agosín is well known as a poet, critic, and human activist. She is also a well-known spokesperson for the plight and priorities of women in Third World countries. Her deep social concerns and accomplishments have earned her many awards and recognitions, and she has gained an international reputation among contemporary women of color.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT I Lived on Butterfly Hill, visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out worldcat.org, indiebound.org, goodreads.com, amazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com.

 

HannahSarah Hannah Gómez is a school librarian in Northern California with a passion for promoting diverse literature to tweens and teens of all colors. She has an MA from the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature and an MS in library and information science from Simmons College. She blogs at her own website and at YALSA’s The Hub. She is working on a novel and a screenplay.