by Alan Lawrence Sitomer
Hyperion Books, 2008
Sonia Rodriguez is the family work camel. The oldest daughter in a family of nine, the 15 year-old wants to keep her grades up and the first member of her family to graduate from high school. But the demands of caring for her pregnant-with-twins mother (“Sonia….. Ayudame!”) who spends all day, every day watching Spanish soaps, plus cooking, cleaning and caring for her younger siblings as well a endless trips t the tienda for cervezas for her loutish “drunkle” are overwhelming. In mu cultura, Sonia explains – a culture she both loves and hates – “familia es todo.” (Family is everything.)
So she misses three days of school to make homemade tamales for her drunkle’s birthday fiesta, gets on the wrong side of her manipulate, hyper-religious Tia Luna. And is generally taken advantage of by everyone and anyone except her beloved, hard-working Papa.
Tia Luna insists that Sonia return to “The Old Country,” and demands the young teen spend a summer visiting with the legendary Abuelita (grandmother) in rural Mexico to straighten her out. Sonia wants none of it. She’s not interested in becoming a carbon copy of her mother – dependent, whiny, and dominated by men. Sonia sets her sights considerably higher – and learns that ambition comes at a price when she’s caught in the middle as cultures collide: a daughter of illegal immigrants in El Norte, and a pocha in Mexico. Where – and how – will she fit in?
Author Alan Sitomer has an uncanny knack for thinking and feeling like a 15 y.o. girl. His ability to capture teen emotions, frustrations, ambitions and angst is remarkable. The story is vivid, Sitomer’s characters real, his settings and scenarios crisp. He also skates perilously close to sermonizing on occasion, and risks losing readers in the process. The plot seems contrived at times, but is redeemed by solid characterizations and crisp dialogue:
“A tear began to form in my heart for all of the mujeres de Mexico. I have never realized how much loneliness there was in the hearts of my people, especially the women. Or how much strength there was to go on, in spite of everything they faced.”
“Do not stoop to their level” is the repeated refrain from Sonia’s proud, industrious father. And she doesn’t. By the end of this book, you’ll want to stand up and cheer.