FRONTERA STREET by Tanya Maria Barrientos: A Review

A very engaging novel of female friendships

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.

TUESDAY TEASER

Today’s Tuesday Teaser comes from Tanya Maria Barrientos’ Frontera Street:

I am just a couple of chapters into this book and have already been surprised.

“I was seven months into my pregnancy, and my legs and ankles were perpetually swollen. The baby kicked whenever I stretched my arms over my head to reach the uppermost button drawers.”

This is said by Dee, a Gringa, who arrived at the fabric shop on Frontera Street in the Barrio one day and promptly fainted. Strangely enough, she stayed, and her story unfolds along with that of Alma, who already works there. This is a story of “friendship and forgiveness,” a story of women being there for each other, one which I am sure I am going to enjoy.

BEFORE WE VISIT THE GODDESS by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: A REVIEW

This 2016 publication particularly appealed to me because I had read Divakaruni’s One Amazing Thing and because I knew she was a professor of Creative Writing at The University of Houston, not only my alma mater, but also one of the five campuses in the system that employs me. She has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The New York Times, so I was aware of her writing prowess going in to this novel. It deals with four generations of women and the ins and outs of mother daughter relationships.

The setting ranges from Bengal, India to Houston, Texas, another selling point for me. Basically it is the story of Sabritri, daughter of the village sweets maker, Durga; Sabritri’s daughter Bella; and her daughter Tara. The novel explores many different forms and kinds of love, love that reaches across generations. All of the women are strong female characters, all finely developed and drawn. The novel opens with a letter which Sabritri is writing at Bela’s request to her granddaughter, Tara. The letter and its significance surfaces at the end of the novel where all is revealed, all suppressed emotions let out, all misconceptions straightened out, all family mysteries solved.  All in all it is a most satisfactory ending. The plot moves us through estrangements and reconciliations as it twists and turns, masterfully allowing us to feel what the characters are feeling.

This author is a supreme storyteller, a fine characterization master, and a very readable author.  This is one I stayed up late to finish.