Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sister Chicas - a review mixed in with memories

Sister Chicas is an amazing book written about three different young latina women by three different authors - each author the "voice" of a character.
Taina's story was written by Jane Alberdeston Coralin
Leni's story is by Ann Hagman Cardinal
Graciela's story was written by Lisa Alvarado
I found it intriguing, the way this book was put together. Just think - there is really three separate stories going on here - about three friends. And with each character, you see not only the character, but how she relates to and sees her friends. It could have been a mess, but it worked. There was one instance where a paragraph should have been edited better - it was repeated twice, in almost the same words. It was minor and I only mention it because I had to stop reading, and then re-read it, a few times thinking "is that really being repeated, almost word for word?" Yes it was, but it must have slipped by. The rest of the book was a sweet, sometimes bittersweet story of three young women at seemingly different stages and ages in their lives but at the same time all three are coming to a crossroads of gaining independence and accepting not only their friend's flaws but their own.
  • Graciela has recently graduated high school and is a well behaved daughter of Mexican immigrants who always does the correct thing, even at the cost of her own desires. She pushes herself in school, work and volunteering because she does not want to disappoint her parents or anyone else. She is extreme in this. We all know someone like this.
  • Leni (Elena), 17 years old, is the daughter of a bi-racial couple, the father from Puerto Rico, the mother an American. Her father has died and her parents were so much in love that her mother is still grieving. Leni is also very rebellious, seemingly denying her PuertoRican heritage, and becoming a punk-rocker. She doesn't speak the language or seem to know much about her Puerto Rican side.
  • Taina, 14 going on 15, is the daughter of PuertoRican parents also, her father a PuertoRican of color, her mother a Puerto Rican. Her grandfather (maternal) apparently had no respect or liking for her father because of his dark skin and her father abandoned her mother and her when she was 7 years old. Her mother has moved to America, opened a restaurant and is a very controlling mother - controlling everything about Taina down to straightening her hair (no matter how Taina wants to wear her hair) and keeping Taina in old fashioned extremely modest clothes that make her stand out like a sore thumb in high school. Taina is so oppressed that she doesn't even think to object to anything her mother does.
Things begin to get complicated when Taina's mother decides to have a Quinceanera (a huge celebration of a 15th birthday, involving wedding like rituals and church). (I never had one, because my mom wasn't brought up in the Catholic way, her parents were 7th day adventists). Taina is dreading her quinceanera (where most of the guests are her mothers, not hers - just like my wedding!). Her two friends are also dreading it, but for different reasons though they are sticking by her because they are Sister Chicas.
The "chicas" met in a journalism class and all of them have a type of poetry in common. Taina writes poetry, Graciela writes stories and Leni loves music. The quinceanera is not the only thing that is causing complications. Each of the girls is finding themselves confused by boys - Taina meets one, and both Leni and Graciela find themselves confused by new feelings for old friends.
This book brings back so many memories - most of my mom's friends were single latina women who all had varying behaving daughters. I was very rebellious and wild from the time I turned 15. My sister was secretly wild, but to my mom the very best, dutiful daughter - she calmed down way before I did. (I was always more in my mom's face, and she was totally in my face - I actually thought she hated me for many years) My mom and her friends were the type of Latina moms that were so critical of their daughters, critical, strict, and very hot tempered. I was certainly a match for my mom though...
I found Sister Chicas very entertaining, while it brought back so many memories of hearing spanish music, going to spanish dances with my mom (tardiadas - the only thing we had in common by the time I was 14 LOL) and the huge birthday parties that were given for kids' birthdays. Always dancing, drinking, lots of food (arroz con pollo, tamales, enchiladas, etc) pinatas (men shouting Arriba, Arriba and moving the pinata up and down while a blindfolded kid wildly swings a bat!) , the coyote yips- always the thick heavy cakes. I remember the first time I went to a "normal" american birthday party I was surprised that there were only the birthday kids' parents there, and the party was so quiet (in relation) and only lasted two hours. No music, no dancing, no pinata - but there was "pin the tail on the donkey!". When my husband and I had a party for our own kids (when we could afford to) we kind of blended the two party styles. Pinata, rock music, parents invited and we had barbeque. We didn't do it often, but when we did, we tried to have a real party. (Arriba! Ole!) It's funny that I have all these latina memories - the spanish, the pinatas, the dancing - But we (my siblings) NEVER LEARNED SPANISH. It's a shame, but I try to use the teeny bit of spanish I have with the students at school. The thing I miss the most about growing up is all the dancing we did. We don't do nearly as much as we should now - especially lately, and it is, should be a necessary part of everyone's life - music and dancing-even if it's only in your kitchen.
  • Sister Chicas - a wonderful book. There were times that I was so irritated at Graciela (god, chica, it's your life, behave so!), and I wanted to give Taina a backbone - her mother was so domineering and so into re-shaping even her hair, that Taina had some issues about her own dark skin. The person that reminded myself of me was Leni - except my father was the American and my mother was more like Taina's mom, while Leni's mom was pretty understanding.
The ending of the book was satisfying - very satisfying. While I wouldn't have handled things like Taina did, or even Granciela, they did eventually find their own strengths, and Leni comes to an understanding of her own past.
A fun part of the book was the glossary at the back - full of phrases I was surprised to find that I understood about 40% of. Another bonus was the section of recipes for some PuertoRican and Mexican dishes, although some of them aren't that appetizing to me there is a recipe for Flan, something I love. There are tortilla recipes and even that (also mentioned in the story) brought back memories of using a tortilla press for tortillas masa when we were little. My mom didn't make the standard flour tortillas, we always made corn tortillas. Her country's tortillas are more like the flat bread that Native Americans make - thicker than Mexican style tortillas.
This is a novel and resource all in one. There is also a reading group guide included - good questions are listed (though I usually don't pay attention to these) that would make for good discussions in a class our reading group.
Reading Challenges

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