Bruja. Curandera. Telépata. Words steeped in mysticism–known by most Hispanics of a certain age, conjur thoughts ranging from Santeria blood rituals to less evocative rights involving herbal medicinal poultices. Regardless of degree, it does seem like the vast tapestry that encompasses Hispanic Culture (as if that is something that broad and diverse can be encompassed) maintains a thread of something otherworldly throughout; supernatural, if you will. Whether it be the tales of La Llorona or El Chupacabra, “Hispanic Culture” is filled with legends, myths, monsters and witches. Indeed, even recently, the television series Charmed, about a trio of sister-witches, was rebooted and changed to reflect Hispanic characters, in an attempt to capitalize on this rich tradition.
Into the Tall Tall Grass, Yolanda Rodríguez-O’Connell’s journey across her family’s land in an attempt to save her Grandmother’s life, shares some of that magical realism with the Charmed Ones. The Rodriguez side of the family, long-recognized as the town’s witches, is replete with secrets, supernatural abilities (the family “trait”), and drama.
Succinctly, this story is about the journey our biracial heroine embarks on with her sister and two friends across a mysterious grass-forest that springs up on the family property, just as Wela (Yolanda’s Grandmother) needs to make it to a special tree to set things right. That journey, becomes a period of revelation for Yolanda and the other kids where they learn some of the Rodriguez family secrets, deepen their own relationships and do some serious growing up. Along the way, Ryon ably employs magical realism to weave an interesting, primarily STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) based narrative featuring four persons of color in leading roles. Yolanda and her sister, both tweens who excel in science, have analytical minds and approach their gifts both from the scientific and magical perspectives.
The story is strongest when describing how the girls “science-things-out.” It is light on the magical realism, and for that matter on overall cultural character development. Yes, the four main characters each carry either Hispanic or South Asian names and surnames. Little is done, however, to develop their cultural identities. Don’t get me wrong, the, dialogue is strong, the story is well-written and interesting to read. These are real people that live in a “real” world and live real lives. I just don’t know where they are from or the rich traditions they may or may not embody.
Is the book interesting to read and appropriate for the Middle Grade group? Yes. Will they enjoy the reading? Yes. Will it linger in their minds? It depends. Readers have two (at least) strong female characters and a strong narrative. It is interesting and provides much needed role models for young girls. Those looking to get lost in a detailed world of fantasy or strong cultural ties may find the experience incomplete.
Into the Tall Tall Grass
Simon & Schuster
More books for this Age Group can be found here.
My thanks to Simon & Schuster for a Review Copy of this book. The views expressed herein are my own.
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