January 2020: Julia Alvarez
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This ALA piece gives a brief overview of her life and career: http://www.ala.org/news/member-news/2019/10/author-julia-alvarez-arthur-curley-m...
I didn't realize she had children's books -- I think I will grab one or two of those, too, to read to my child!
I really liked it. Alvarez has nearly mellifluous writing. At first I had a little trouble keeping the sisters straight because some of the early stories use "the oldest sister"/"the youngest sister" instead of names, but after a few of the chapters I got it figured out. The fear in the time of the dictatorship is rendered so vividly. It's hard to think about how recent that was and how many generations were affected in these families that got split up due to immigration, imprisonment, and violence.
>4 BookConcierge: I noticed that Yo! is focused on the same character, Yolanda Garcia, so I may check that one out next.
The Secret Footprints – Julia Alvarez
Illustrations by Fabian Negrin
This children’s picture book tells the Dominican Republic legend of the ciguapas – a race of extraordinarily beautiful people who live in caves beneath the sea and come onto land only at night. As a further way of ensuring they won’t be found their feet are on backwards, so anyone following their footprints will be led away from them rather than toward them.
I found this charming and entertaining. I liked the kindness displayed by both Guapa and the human boy and his family. Could not help but recall The Little Mermaid. The illustrations by Fabian Negrin are gloriously rich in color and bring me right to the tropics.
>8 BookConcierge: That sounds like a lovely picture book!
With their dairy farm struggling to succeed after an accident, Tyler's parents decide to hire a family originally from Mexico to help out. But Tyler is warned not to tell anyone about this decision, given that the family is undocumented. At first Tyler is not comfortable with this course of action, but when he becomes friends with Maria, the oldest daughter in the family, he begins to see things differently.
The book is told in alternating chapters between Tyler's perspective and Maria's, which I think helps with an empathy factor as well as getting a broader perspective on the events unfolding in the plot. Tyler's parts are told in a third person point-of-view narrative, whereas Maria's are epistolary in nature. In the beginning, this could be very clunky, such as when she is writing to a relative and describes to him what happened at his legal hearing -- a hearing where he was present and she was not. Later, she gets a diary and writes in there, which seems like a better route to take to make the narrative smoother and more logical.
This book tackles very important issues about immigration and attempts to help readers understand that people are people everywhere and no one should be "illegal." There were times, especially in the beginning, where this felt a little heavy handed, although I guess that can be a little fair when the book is intended for younger readers. Set in 2005-2006, this book makes references that can be a little dated (e.g., I'm not sure that current middle-grade students would catch on to the subtle allusion to Barbara and Jenna Bush) and some situations regarding immigration have changed since then.
Because there were so many meaty issues addressed in this book, it was impossible for it to end entirely happily -- especially if it wanted to remain in the realm of realism. It did, however, manage to stay largely positive in the end. But there was one situation in which it was heavily implied that an adult character was raped and I felt that such sexual violence was a bit much for a children's book, especially if it wasn't really going to be explored but just hinted at vaguely.
The characters in this book all won me over eventually (even the crotchety old man) and were endearing. They made the book worthwhile and kept me interested. For audiobook listeners, this one is read by Ozzie Rodriguez for Tyler's sections and Olivia Preciado for Maria's parts; both readers did a good job.
Milly has always kept her adoption hidden from the other kids in her small Vermont town but when a new boy starting at her high school hails from the same Latin America country where she was born, she discovers that she is interested in learning more about her birth story.
This book had a strong start but petered out somewhere in the middle. In the beginning, it explored the many relationships within one family, with each character having their own quirk -- from Milly's mother who is occasionally a bit of a prude as a result of her Mormon upbringing to Milly's Jewish grandmother who uses her wealth as leverage while secretly still being haunted by stories of the Holocaust to Milly's over-eager younger brother who just wants everyone to get along. Assorted friendships at Milly's school are also addressed, feeling quite a bit like a typical coming-of-age story for middle grade/young adult literature.
Then the book veers into Milly's trip to visit the country of her birth and her quest for more information about her biological parents. All of this is fairly fitting with the story so far, but here it also diverges into looking at stories of the revolution there and the troubles that people went through in Milly's native country. One thing that was small but bothered me greatly is that Alvarez did not name a country, just stated that it was somewhere in Latin America. To some extent, I get that she did this to mold the narrative of the country's political upheaval to fit the story she was telling. But it also seemed odd in a book that was otherwise so rooted in the particulars of everyday realism.
This part of the book also started touching on dicey subject matter such as torture and rape; the rest of the book seemed appropriate for younger kids but this section made it firmly rooted for teens in my opinion. While none of this section was bad per se, it just didn't seem to mesh with the rest of the book; it felt like it belonged to an entirely different book.
In the end, many things still seemed up in the air, which may or may not bother some readers. For me, it seemed realistic and fit the story well. The audiobook is narrated by Daphne Rubin-Vega, who did an excellent job.