Saturday, December 27, 2008

Jenn's Review: The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez

Summary: Sonia Rodriguez was born in the United States, but her parents are Mexican immigrants who came to California before she was born. Her father has three Social Security numbers, her mother is pregnant (again), and neither of them speaks English. Sonia's mother spends most of her time in bed, watching soap operas, and letting Sonia clean up after her brothers. Sonia's father works dutifully to support his family, but he knows that his daughter's dreams are bigger than making tamales for family get-togethers. When Sonia attempts to put school work before her familia, her mother decides that it's time for Sonia to visit her grandmother in Mexico to learn "the ways of the old world." While in Mexico, Sonia spends time with her wise grandmother and her cousin Maria who teach her that while familia is important, the most important thing is to follow your heart. Sonia returns to the States determined to succeed in school, but the birth of her new twin siblings, inappropriate advances from her drunk uncle (Drunkle), and a forbidden relationship with an El Salvadorian boy push school to the back burner. If only Sonia can find the time to cook dinner, secretly meet with her boyfriend, avoid her Drunkle, AND finish her homework, she just might be able to graduate from high school...

Review: There were several times that I had to put this book down because I was frustrated ~ not frustrated with the book so much as I was frustrated for Sonia, and I had to walk away. This is a heart wrenching story of the difficulties of growing up as a first generation Latina immigrant who is trying to strike the balance between respecting her family and her cultural heritage, and respecting herself.

While I appreciated the characters in the book and was routing for Sonia in the most heartfelt manner, there were a few nagging things that kept me from enjoying this book completely. Sitomer's writing style skips large amounts of time with a single sentence or two, and while I understand the need to move the story along, I found the abrupt jumps slightly jarring. There were times, too, when I was strongly aware that I was reading a grown man trying to find a teenage girl's voice.

I disliked his stereo-typical teachers, and while I know that there are some out there (there is a kernel of truth to all stereotypes, that's how they become stereotypes) there were an appalling number of them teaching at this school. (And as Sitomer is a teacher who defies those stereotypes, I am surprised he 'went there.')

I also found the ending a little too fluffy, fairytale-happy. Don't get me wrong, I am glad that everything worked out for Sonia, but it wasn't very realistic. Sitomer spends so much time in gritty, gruelling details to make this story true to life, it felt like he took an easy out. I understand it was meant to be inspirational (as the sign in one of Sonia's classroom's states, "Good things happen to those who try"), but this was winning the 'good things' jackpot.

As a final note and a personal aside, I must say that I enjoyed the Spanglish in this book. As a teenager I babysat for two Ecuadorian girls and I would come home speaking a mixture of Spanish and English all the time. It brought back some great memories and made me smile.

All in all, a good cultural read... but it could have been better.



Serena December 29, 2008 at 9:57 AM  

Sounds like overall the story was well written. I might have to check this one out.

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