On the right, a Christmas tree. Old fashioned bubble lights mostly working, a couple of snowball lights already out, Hallmark ornaments galore. On the left, what can only be termed an eclectic Bethlehem. The nativity scene set up in the front, with an old school New England flower shop, a gasoline station, an observatory and a lighthouse surrounding it.
Asked by friends at the playground, at dance class, at dinner…she responds, “I’m from here, from today, same as everyone else.” That answer doesn’t seem to suffice so she asks her Abuelo and his answer is absolutely priceless.
It’s been well over 30 years since I experienced a Thanksgiving like that; a Thanksgiving with a large extended family, surrounded by those with whom I share a common ancestry, but really so much more. Whether through blood or marriage, those familial bonds, made often through strife laced with love (and not the other way around), are indelible. They are what put the “crazy,” in Crazy Glue. Yes, we have framily, but even those of us who roll our eyes at going home for the holidays, sometimes wish we had a home to go home to.
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.