Category Archives: 2012 Books

Book review: Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s “Summer of the Mariposas”

Summer of the Mariposas (Tu Books/Lee & Low Books), a young adult novel by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, combines Aztec and Mexican folklore with the plot of The Odyssey and elements from the movies Stand By Me and Weekend at Bernie’s – and it works.

Odilia, 18, and her four sisters are struggling to get by after their father has abandoned their mother. They’re enjoying a dip in the Rio Grande near their Eagle Pass home when they come across a dead body – hints of the Stephen King short story The Body and the 1986 movie Stand By Me, in which four boys look for a corpse. The sisters decide to take the body to the man’s home in Mexico with a scene reminiscent of the 1989 movie Weekend at Bernie’s, in which two men drag around a dead body.

Before they leave, La Llorona – the Mexican folklore figure who haunts waterways, crying for the children she drowned – gives Odilia advice about the journey and perils she will face in Mexico, similar to the trials Odysseus faced in Homer’s epic tale The Odyssey.

Odilia – get it? – and her sisters face a siren named Cecilia, who lures the girls with pan  dulce, and a one-eyed shepherd named Chencho. Garcia McCall also manages to get in the loteriaa quinceanera, chupacabras and the Aztec goddess Tonantzin (also referred to as the Virgen de Guadalupe) in the book. And, just like Odysseus, Odilia grows during her journey. The mariposas are in the title for a reason.

Adults may find the symbolism heavy-handed, but the book is aimed at young adults and Mariposas is a good guide to get them through The Odyssey. The book has a light, amusing touch that makes it a fun read, and young Latinos will enjoy reading about their culture.

More about Guadalupe Garcia McCall:

Guadalupe Garcia McCall won the prestigious Pura Belpré Award for her first book, the 2011 young adult novel Under the Mesquite. Born in Mexico, she now lives in Texas and teaches at a junior high school. She talked to The Hispanic Reader last year about her works and inspiration.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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In the news: New books by Cisneros; book festivals; and tons of links about Junot Díaz

(Note: This post was updated to include the Junot Díaz award from the MacArthur Foundation.)

It’s October, and that means news books, book festival season and Dias de los Muertos. Find out more below:

Already out: Sesame Street actress Sonia Manzano’s young adult novel The Revolution of Everlyn Serrano depicts a Puerto Rican teen growing up in Spanish Harlem in the turbulent 1960s. Manzano talked to the TBD website about the book.

• Oct. 1: Guadalupe García McCall, author of the Pura Belpre winning book Under the Mesquite, releases Summer of the Mariposas, a retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey through the eyes of five sisters.

Oct. 2: Sandra Cisneros writes about her missing cat in the illustrated book, Have You Seen Marie?

Oct. 9: In the young adult novel A Thunderous Whisper by Christina Díaz Gonzalez, a 12-year-old girl is caught up in spying during the Spanish Civil War.

Oct. 16: Benjamin Alire Saenz releases a collection of short stories, Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club. In The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira by Cesar Aira, a doctor discovers he has superhuman powers.

Junot Díaz alert:

Junot Díaz was awarded the prestigious MacArthur “Genius Award” on Oct. 1. The honor is given by the MacArthur Foundation to outstanding individuals in the arts, humanities and sciences.

Need a Junot Díaz fix? Lots of people do since his collection of short stories, This Is How You Lose Her, was released last month. Nearly a thousand fans crammed into a New York City Barnes and Noble, causing a near riot, according to the ColorLines website. He chatted with The New York Times Magazine’s recent “Inspiration” issue about what has influenced his writing, and a nice slideshow is included. He talked about the main character’s game to NPR; his Dominican background to NBC Latino; genre fiction to Capital New York; and the perceived sexism in his book to The Atlantic. He also went bar-hopping with Grantland. But wait, here’s more articles from Latina magazine, the NPR radio show Latino USA, Huffington Post, the Good Reads website and CNN. Here’s some podcasts from The New York Timesand the Brooklyn Vol. 1 website, where Díaz discusses his passion for comic books. He talked about his love for the Hernandez brothers (of Love and Rockets fame) to the NPR radio program Latino USA. Still can’t get enough of Díaz? Check out his Facebook feed or the new fan website, Junot Díaz Daily.

Book Festivals:

Oct. 1-6: The San Diego City College Int’l Book Fair will include Reyna Grande (left), Gustavo Arellano, Rudy Acuña, Matt de la Peña and Herbert Sigüenza.

Oct. 13 – The Los Angeles Latino Book & Family Festival will feature Victor Villaseñor and Luis J. Rodriguez.

Oct. 27: The Boston Book Festival will feature Junot Díaz and Justin Torres, right.

Oct. 27-28: The Texas Book Festival in Austin will feature Gustavo Arellano, Nora de Hoyos Comstock, Junot Díaz, Reyna Grande, Diana López, Domingo Martinez, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, René Saldaña Jr., Esmeralda Santiago, Ilan Stavans, Duncan Tonatiuh, Juan Pablo Villalobos, Ray Villareal and Gwendolyn Zepeda.

Literary magazines:

Aztlan Libre Press has released the book Nahualliandoing Dos: An Anthology of Poetry, which was influenced by Cecilio Garcia-Camarillo, Caracol and Nahualliandoing.

• Here’s an interesting article from Ploughshares literary magazine from Jennifer De Leon (no relation) about whether to italicize foreign phrases in literary works, with a mention of Junot Díaz (him again!).

Events:

• Las Comadres Para Las Americas will host a writer’s workshop Oct. 6 in New York City. Speakers include  Sonia Manzano, Lyn DiIorio, and Caridad Pineiro.

• The Festival de la Palabra, which includes discussions and readings from from Rosa Beltrán, Ángel Antonio Ruiz Laboy and Charlie Vásquez, takes place Oct. 9-11 in New York City.

Other news:

• The Southern California public radio station KPCC covered a reading of Ban This! The BSP Anthology of Chicano Literature, written in response to the state of Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies.

• Poet Lupe Mendez was named one of the Houston Press’s top 100 creative people.

Héctor Tobar’s 2011 novel The Barbarian Nurseries may be adapted into a movie, according to ComingSoon.net.

• The film version of Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me Ultima premiered in El Paso, according to the El Paso Times.

• A new film based on Juan Gonzalez’s Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America is being released.

Justin Torres, author of 2011’s We the Animals, was named to the National Book Founationa’s 5 under 35 list of emerging authors.

Also this month:

• Celebrating birthdays this month: Nobel Prize winner Miguel Angel Asturias, right, on Oct. 19.

• The Nobel Prizes will be announced this month, and Book Riot has its predictions. (It’s not likely a Latino or an American will win this year.) Here’s a look at Latinos who’ve won the award.

• Looking for some books for Dias de los Muertos? Here’s The Hispanic Reader’s round-up from last year.

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Book review: Carlos Andrés Gómez’s “Man Up: Cracking the Code of Modern Manhood”

Carlos Andrés Gómez wants men to stop acting like Superman.

In his memoir, Man Up: Cracking the Code of Modern Manhood (Gotham), the spoken word poet uses his own personal experiences to show how men should be open to expressing their personal emotions, including crying and asking for help and forgiveness. As he writes:

“I was taught to wipe my tears and steady my expression as a kid. Don’t talk about what’s rumbling inside of your chest. Stay stoic and quiet. It’s part of the unspoken male code. ‘Toughen up, son,’ ‘suck it up,’ ‘man up’ – this is how we learn to process emotion. This is the cause of our emotional illiteracy. No wonder so many men bury their wounds and insecurities in alcohol and drugs and violence.”

Gómez has an interesting background. His father was from Colombia and worked for the United Nations, moving his family around the world when Gómez was young. His mother is a “traditional Southern WASPy American” with a doctorate in linguistics. His parents divorced when he was young, but Gómez earned good grades and served in leadership positions in the high schools he attended on the East Coast. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, he worked as a social worker and teacher.

Even more interesting is the chapter called “Sex: F—king, Making Love and F—king Up.” Earlier in the book, Gómez says he’s only slept with six women in his life. But then he describes various encounters of “hooking up” in vivid detail – how Clinton-esque of him. The chapter comes across as self-serving and hypocritical – although he later concedes that he was using “the girls.”

But the book provides some interesting insights and it becomes stronger in the end, thanks to Gómez’s well-written, easy-to-read prose. Take this passage in which Gómez describes how he healed his relationship with his father:

“When I started studying acting at twenty-three it was turning point, and I realized how impersonal all of my poems had been. Why was I so passionate and loud in my delivery of all of them? … And one day it clicked: all of those poems were about my father. I had been getting up on stage for years yelling at my father. These poems had been a vehicle to heal from the hurt I felt from our relationship. From the broken promises and the move and changing schools and the family being split apart, I was screaming with such intensity, making my throat go hoarse, because I wanted to acknowledged. More than anything else, I just wanted to be heard.”

I also enjoyed his poetry – which is included in the beginning of each chapter – and I wished the book included more of his work.

Man Up is a great book for young men to find themselves – and for women to understand a little bit about men.

More about Carlos Andrés Gómez:

Gómez has performed his spoken word poetry at more than 200 colleges around the world. He appeared in the 2006 movie Inside Man and in Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry. Check out his performances here.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Book review: Joy Castro’s “Hell or High Water” and “Island of Bones”

Class and cultural identity are two topics that don’t get as much attention as much as they should, but Joy Castro tackles the issues in her suspense novel Hell or High Water and a book of essays, Island of Bones.

Hell or High Water (St. Martin’s Press) begins with an intriguing premise. A young woman is kidnapped from a restaurant in broad daylight. The book then turns to Nola Céspedes, a Cuban-American newspaper reporter who’s assigned to investigate sexual predators in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.

The book only devotes a few passages to the kidnapping that hooks the reader. Instead, it delves into the Nola’s long interviews for her article and her personal struggles. Nola is supposed to come off as ambitious and sarcastic, but I found her snobby and pretentious, especially when she talked about her job.

“I’ve got no intention of sticking around,” she says. “The plan is to write a few knockout features, get noticed, pack my bags and then take my clips to some real newspaper in some real city.”

Well, aren’t you special? In 2008, the year the story (somewhat randomly) takes place, and even today, she would have been lucky to have any job in newspapers.

I also wanted the book to be more about the potential killer on the loose than on Nola. And as a former newspaper reporter, I found the newsroom scenes could have been so much more – which may by why I’m more critical of this book than if Nola had been a police detective or a private investigator.

Fortunately, Castro writes clearly, so the book was an easy read. And Castro is terrific at bringing up class issues that many other writers ignore. In one scene, she talks to two lower-income women about sexual predator laws.

“Neither of the women has heard of Megan’s Law. Neither knows she can access a sex-offender registry online. Neither one owns a computer.”

At the end of the book, I understood more about the decisions that Nola makes. But I wished I could have liked her more.

I liked Island of Bones (University of Nebraska Press) much better. The collection of essays covers Castro’s personal life, including a horribly abusive childhood, and her career working as the rare Latina in academia in the Midwest.

The title essay examines the stereotypes people have about Latinos, such as their faith and looks. Another great essay, “Fitting,” discusses the subtle barbs of female friendships and the importance of a good spouse.

Like her novel, Castro excels when she discusses class issues. Coming from a poor background, she is amazed at the food spreads in the faculty meetings at the college at she works.

In one of the best essays, “On Becoming Educated,” she points out how academia doesn’t reach out to everyday Latinas.

“I’m a first-generation college student, here by fluke on fellowship, and the theorists’ English seems foreign to me, filled with jargon and abstractions at which I can only guess. They say nothing about wife-beating or rape or unequal wages or child molesting, which is the charge that finally got my stepfather sent to prison. They say nothing about being a single mother on ten thousand dollars a year, which is my own situation. The feminist writers respond to male theorists – Lacan, Derrida – whose work I haven’t read. I can’t parse their sentences or recognize their allusions, and I don’t know what they mean or how they’re helpful to the strippers and dropouts and waitresses I know, the women I care abut the most, to my aunt Lettie who worked the register at Winn-Dixie and my aunt Linda who cleaned houses.”

Fortunately, in Castro, women like Lettie and Linda have someone that’s writing about them.

More about Joy Castro:

Joy Castro’s first book was the 2005 memoir The Truth Book: Escaping a Childhood of Abuse Among Jehovah’s Witnesses. She is an associate professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Source: I checked Hell or High Water out of the library. I received a review copy of Island of Bones from the publisher.

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Book review: Junot Díaz’s “This is How You Lose Her”

Junot Díaz’s collection of short stories, This Is How You Lose Her (Riverhead), is absolutely brilliant – and just a tad annoying.

Most of the stories feature Yunior – a character in Díaz’s first book, Drownwho, like Díaz, was born in the Dominican Republic, immigrated to New Jersey as a child and teaches creative writing in the Boston area. All of these stories are told in Díaz’s unique voice that seems to be speaking to you like you’re his best friend. The voice is tormented, cynical and, to the reader, entertaining to read.

The book shows Yunior in different phases from his life, including one story (“Invierno”) from his childhood in which he is fascinated by the snow and disillusioned by his father: “I had expected a different father, one about seven feet tall with enough money to buy our entire barrio, but this one was average height, with an average face.”

But, most of the time, Yunior always seems to be breaking up with a woman or in some sort of relationship drama. “And that’s when I know it’s over,” Yunior says in “The Sun, the Moon, the Stars.” “As soon as you start thinking about the beginning, it’s the end.”

In “The Pura Principle” Yunior’s brother, Rafa, has been diagnosed with cancer. It’s one of the best stories in the book, and it has some of the best lines, such as when their mother turns to religion: “She’d never been on big on church before, but as soon as we landed on cancer planet she went so over-the-top Jesucristo that I think she would have nailed herself to a cross if she had one handy.”

An abusive partner is described as “a two-year-long PSA,” and a new friend is termed as “fresh-off-the-boat-didn’t-have-no-papers Dominican.”

And there’s this: “Pura was her name. Pura Adames. Pura Mierda was what Mami called her.”

While it’s a great line, that sentence also represents the book’s one flaw. Many of the women are portrayed as lying sluts. Yunior is not a saint himself, but I’d wish the women were more multidimensional, such as in “Miss Lora”,  in which Yunior has an affair with an older woman, or in “Otra Vida, Otra Vez,” about an immigrant who works in a laundry room and waits for her family to call every Sunday.

(Díaz’s frequent use of the “F” and “N” words also may turn off some readers, although I understand that language is a reflection of the working class lives portrayed in the stories.)

But then, in the last story in the book, “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” Yunior begins to grow up after his girlfriend catches him cheating on her and dumps him. You feel for Yunior because Díaz captures the pain of a broken heart so well – it’s slow, it’s hard, and it’s painful. It’s the perfect ending to a great book.

More about Junot Díaz:

Díaz is the author of the 1997 short story collection Drown and the 2008 novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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In the news: New releases from González and Díaz, book festivals and more

September means new books and book festivals. Here’s a look at what’s going on:

Already released: Rigoberto González’s Mariposa Gown – a sequel to The Mariposa Club –depicts the friendship between three teenage boys who want to make a splash at their high school prom with the titular outfit.

Brazilian writer Jorge Amado‘s The Double Death of Quincas Water-Bray and The Discovery of America by the Turks have received new translations from Gregory Rabassa. To mark Amado’s 100th birthday, Rabassa and writer Rivka Glachen will discuss Amado’s work Sept. 17 at the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute, reports the Shelf Awareness newsletter. The Millions website also wrote about the two new releases.

• Sept. 11: Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz will release a collection of short stories, This is How You Lose Her. Here’s a cool Pinterest board by blogger Poornima Apte that shows the town and other details from the book. (She did the same for Roberto Ampuero’s The Neruda Case and other books.) Díaz has been all over the media: dressing up in Edith Wharton-era clothes for a Vogue fashion spread; discussing his love life in New York magazine; sharing his reading habits with The New York Times; and compiling a playlist to NPR’s alt. Latino website.

Sept. 25: In the novel The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo, Mexican writer F.G. Haghenbeck writes about the life of the iconic Mexican artist.

Sept. 27: Spoken word poet Carlos Andrés Gómez discusses how masculinity is evolving in Man Up: Cracking the Code of Modern Manhood.

Book festivals:

Here’s a look at some upcoming book festivals:

• Sept. 15: Houston Librofest will play host to Gwendolyn Zepeda (right), Javier O. Huerta and Sarah Cortez.

• Sept. 22-23: The National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. will feature Sandra Cisneros, Junot Díaz, Mario Vargas Llosa, Justin Torres and Maria Dueñas. Mexican-born, California-based Rafael Lopez is the festival artist.

Sept. 23: The Brooklyn Book Festival will include Carlos Andrés Gómez, Charles Rice-Gonzalez, Reyna Grande, Esmeralda Santiago, Luis Alberto Urrea, and graphic artists Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez.

• Sept. 28-30: The Baltimore Book Festival will feature Caridad Pineiro and Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban.

Literary Magazines:

• Several Latino-oriented literary magazines are out with new issues. Acentos Review, edited by Bonafide Rojas, focuses on music on its August 2012 edition. The bilingual BorderSenses published its 18th volume. Lorna Dee Cervantes, Rigoberto Gonzales and Andrea J. Serrano are featured in the latest issue of the Mas Tequila Review.

• The fall issue of Zyzzyva magazine, which is devoted to West Coast writers, features works by Dagoberto Gilb and Luis Alberto Urrea.

Librotraficante:

Sept. 21: Librotraficante, which was founded earlier this year to protest the state of Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies, will host a 50 States of Freedom of Speech event in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, which begins Sept. 15.

Writer’s Workshop

Las Comadres Para Las Americas will host a writer’s workshop Oct. 6 in New York City. Speakers include Sesame Street actress and children’s book writer Sonia Manzano, author of the just released The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, as well asLyn DiIorio, and Caridad Pineiro.

Other features:

• NPR featured the latest work of graphic comic book artist Jaime Hernandez, creator of the Love and Rockets series.

• The El Paso Times has marked the 40th anniversary of the Rudolfo Anaya novel Bless Me Ultima with essays from Rigoberto González, Denise Chávez and other writers.

• Argentine writers will now receive a pension, according to The New York Times.

Reyna Grande, author of The Distance Between Us, talked to the Zyzzyva website.

• Junot Díaz was among the writers at the Edinburgh World Writer’s Conference who condemned Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies.

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Book review: Las Comadres Para Las Americas’ “Count on Me: Tales of Sisterhoods and Fierce Friendships”

Count On Me: Tales of Sisterhoods and Fierce Friendships (Atria) is the perfect gift to give to your best friend.

The book of essays was put together by the non-profit association Las Comadres Para Las Americas and edited by Adriana V. Lopez. In a dozen essays, 11 prominent Latinas – plus Luis Alberto Urrea – talk about the power of female friendship. Some of the friends make extraordinary gestures. Carolina de Robertis, author of Perla, edits a deceased friend’s book. A teacher offers shelter to Reyna Grande, in an excerpt from her memoir The Distance Between Us, after she faces a bad family situation. Lorraine López receives advice from writer Judith Ortiz Cofer to pursue her literary career – leading to such books as The Realm of Hungry Spirits.

But two of the best essays are those that acknowledge that a best friend can often be your worst enemy. In “Anarchy Chicks,” Michelle Herrera Mulligan describes how adolescent friends go weeks without talking to each other, then become best friends again with a single phone call. In “The Miranda Manual,” Sofia Quintero nails all the subtle gestures and actions that can destroy a relationship:

“There were no betrayals or putdowns, no angry emails or shouting matches, breaches of confidences or rehashing of past misdeeds. Neither of us committed a gross act of deliberate hurt against the other. Rather, we engaged in tiny yet relentless acts of thoughtless toward each other. The little digs, constant interruptions and the passive listening typical of mere acquaintances that’s easy to ignore. When the person is usually mindful and considerate best friend, it hurts like hell.”

Most of the essays are excellent. Dr. Ana Nogales’ essay is too general to make an emotional impact, but she describes the health benefits to friendships. But Teresa Rodríguez sums up the power of friendship in her essay about activist Esther Chávez Cano:

You see, a comadre is not necessarily a close friend, but a person whose example is etched in your heart. The one you’d like to emulate, that friend who gave so much of herself and asked for nothing in return.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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