January 2020: Julia Alvarez

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January 2020: Julia Alvarez

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1sweetiegherkin
Gen 2, 2020, 11:25am

New year, new author! This month we'll be reading works by Julia Alvarez. What (if any) books have you read by her before? Which title do you plan to read this month?

2sweetiegherkin
Gen 2, 2020, 11:31am

Apparently Alvarez will have a new book publishing in the spring.

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...

3sweetiegherkin
Gen 2, 2020, 11:32am

Being a children's librarian, I'll probably pick up one of her books for youth, as I'll have something new (to me) to recommend to my patrons then :)

4BookConcierge
Gen 9, 2020, 4:53pm

I've read several of her books previously, including:
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
In the Time of the Butterflies
Before We Were Free -and-
Yo!

Last month I read a children's picture book by her. Haven't posted (or written) my review yet, though)

5sparemethecensor
Gen 15, 2020, 6:27am

This is a new author to me but I've heard great things about How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents for years, so that's what I will be reading. Really excited.

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!

6sparemethecensor
Gen 21, 2020, 8:52pm

I finished How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.

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.

7BookConcierge
Gen 21, 2020, 9:28pm

>6 sparemethecensor: And of course Yo, in addition to being a short form of Yolanda, is Spanish for ME!

8BookConcierge
Gen 26, 2020, 12:55pm


The Secret Footprints – Julia Alvarez
Illustrations by Fabian Negrin
5*****

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.

9sweetiegherkin
Gen 28, 2020, 8:37pm

>4 BookConcierge:, >6 sparemethecensor: I've heard good things about How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents as well. In the book I read, Alvarez has an author's note at the end discussing the reasons why she wrote it and one of them was the challenge that came to How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Apparently parents charged that the book was too 'morally gray' for teenagers to grasp.

>8 BookConcierge: That sounds like a lovely picture book!

10sweetiegherkin
Gen 28, 2020, 8:38pm

Got a slow start to January but today I finished Return to Sender, which is a children's book (chapter book/middle grade). This is the review I just finished writing:

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.

11sweetiegherkin
Gen 28, 2020, 8:39pm

Oh, I've also been trying to get my hands on an audiobook copy of Alvarez's Finding Miracles, but it's been consistently checked out at the library so I'll have to wait on that one for a little longer still.

12sweetiegherkin
Feb 27, 2020, 4:28pm

I did get that audiobook copy of Finding Miracles and enjoyed it on the whole. My longer review is below:

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.