I want you to stop for a moment and imagine being a parent telling your eight-year-old that you’re about to send him on a journey that will take him to another country, mostly by foot, across hundreds of miles, across all sorts of terrains, in all sorts of weather, facing untold dangers, in search of a better life. Now imagine that you’re the eight-year-old.
As the youngest daughter of a Cuban family living in Miami, Lila Reyes has everything she could possibly want. She has spent her life learning to make all of the recipes her grandmother taught her while working at their family bakery, La Paloma. Cooking and baking are Lila’s heart and soul; they are the passions that drive her dreams and fuel her goals. The recipes her grandmother taught her go far beyond the kitchen where she spends so much of her time; they are the very beat of her heart.
To say that 12 year old Santiago has had a rough life would be putting it mildly. His father out of the picture, his loving mom dead since he was 5, Santiago has bounced between the houses of his malicious and abusive relatives. His abuela, la malvada, is the worst. After being banished once again to her house, Santiago decides he would rather run away than return to her.
It’s easy to read Paola Santiago and the River of Tears as the spellbinding story of the supernatural that it is, but just as Pao learns that there’s more going on beneath the surface of the Gila River, the reader discovers there’s more depth in the book too. Themes of place and belonging are brought into sharp relief as Pao chafes at what she sees as her mother’s backwards beliefs.
I would steer the book away from Middle Grade readers and put it squarely in the hands of a Young Adult audience and above. The themes are strong, the writing is strong, and although very funny at times, things can get pretty intense:
In her book, The Heart of Mi Familia, Lara seamlessly weaves a story of what it is like to be not only bilingual, but also bicultural, and she does so in a sweet story of a little girl that effortlessly moves between two cultures.
In Jorge Argueta’s haunting novel in verse, Caravan to the North: Misael’s Long Walk, Misael and his family can no longer live in their home, El Salvador, which they love.
Through extrapolation, Accordionly, touches upon the obstacle many children face when going to school for the first time in a new country: the inability to communicate with children who do not speak a common language.
Sili Recio’s description of how her color was used as both a source of joy and encouragement and a weapon to cause pain is both poignant and inspirational. Her message to boys and girls with skin that is “a ribbon of different shades of brown” is especially important under the current climate our country and the world is experiencing.