Review of Sister Chicas
by Lisa Alvarado, Ann Hagman Cardinal, and Jane
New American Library, April 2006
(New York), 264 pp
Think “Ya Ya Sisters” crossed with “How the Garcia
Girls Lost Their Accent”, and you’ll have some idea of just what
a treat this delightful novel is.
by the three main characters in each young woman’s strong,
clear voice, the novel offers a compelling and perceptive look at what it
means to grow up as a Latina woman in contemporary America. There’s
Taina, the Puerto Rican daughter of a single mother whose upcoming quinceanera
is the plot point that drives this propulsive narrative; Graciela, an ambitious
and driven Mexican-American who feels a responsibility to achieve the dreams
her immigrant parents couldn’t, and Leni, a rebellious Puerto-Rican/Irish-American
teenager who struggles to reconcile the disparate elements of her upbringing.
friendship, as unlikely as it may have seemed at first, is the constant in
their lives, even as so many other assumptions and expectations are challenged.
As a novel of growing up, it’s pitch perfect, dealing equally well with Taina’s ambivalent
emotions towards her mother’s demands and her own need to separate and
carve her own path , or Graciela’s attempt to reconcile her dreams with
her daughterly duties. Throw in some attractive, if potentially unsuitable
boyfriends, and it’s no wonder that this novel zips along.
most engaging are the detailed descriptions of the “Chica
Sisters” outings to a Cuban café, El Rinconcito, where the flavors
and textures of life in a warm, comforting ethnic neighborhood are palpable.
Or even Leni’s experiences with her extended family in Puerto Rico,
where she lets down her urban guard enough to allow herself to be embraced
by the relaxed rhythms of simply sitting on porches with her older relatives.
There’s plenty of wit
and humor here, too, especially in the all-too-familiar battles between Taina
and her mother about what kind of dress would be suitable for the all-important
quinceanera—not to mention the shopping excursions in search of the right
dresses for Graciela and Leni.
The authors thoughtfully provide
a useful glossary of Spanish words and phrases, as well as cultural touchstones
for Caribbean cultures.
also a tempting section of recipes, for everything from tortillas and flan
to chili con carne and a torta imperial. These extras in the novel make it
ideal for an extended book club discussion and experience.
an engaging introduction to Latina culture for non-Latinos-and I would imagine
an appealing, even comforting text for young Hispanic women who seek authentic
images of themselves in a well written novel.#