This 2002 publication showed up in my Little Free Library, and I read it before putting it back in for neighbors to read. As a gringa, I learned a great deal about the Hispanic culture and even a few Spanish words. The buttons on the cover is what caught my attention, as well as the dark and light women pictured there. The novel shows how female friendship can transcend age, culture, and ethnicity. Dee, an Anglo woman visits a fabric shop in the Barrio, and after arriving, faints, causing the Hispanic women who own and work in the shop to go into a “tizzy.” Septima, the owner takes pity on this seemingly down-and-out woman and offers her a job, much to the displeasure of her employee, Alma.
The working environment is strained because of tension between Dee and Alma, and even becomes worse when Dee goes to “stay” with Alma and her ballerina daughter, Socorro. What the Hispanic mother and daughter don’t know is that Dee has a secret, a very unusual one. The longer Dee keeps her secret, the harder it is to “come clean” with the mother and daughter she comes to care for. Many contrasts pepper this story: the barrio vs the affluent neighborhood nearby, the Mexican vs Anglo culture, and all of the women involved must learn to set emotional boundaries. These are all strong women with strong ties of friendship, but are these ties strong enough to withstand the revelation of the secrets held between Dee and Alma, or Alma and Socorro? If nothing else, this novel ends on a note of hope and healing.
Today’s selections are books I read while I was a Cybils’ first round reader for middle school readers last fall. I am happy to mention these books as good reading for this age group.
Beverly Right Here by Kate DiCamillo is for older junior high to early high school readers. It deals with runaways, drugs, and other mature themes. After Beverly’s dog dies, that is the last straw in her troubled family relationship, so she buries the dog and runs away. She is a strong, self-sufficient young woman with whom the reader immediately bonds.
The secondary characters in this novel are strong as well: Elmer, Beverly’s love interest; and Iola, the eccentric elderly lady she meets at the VFW turkey raffle (Iola rigs the raffle, a hilarious plot gimmick). Oftentimes laugh-out-loud funny, the story is also heartbreaking in places. The author’s portrayal of teen angst is spot-on as is her engaging writing style.
Anthem by Deborah Wiles is also a challenging read for junior high through early high school This description of a road trip taken to protest the Vietnam War brings together young friends in a historical novel teens will enjoy.
Nina Soni: Former Best Friend appeals to tweens and younger readers. There are many clever illustrations, and it deals with complex friendships and relationships so prevalent within this age group. A tiny book by Kashmira Sheth (writer) and Jean Kocsmiersky (illustrator), it had its funny moments as well as an adorable protagonist who reminds me of myself with her constant list making. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.