Set in 1969, Manzano’s first novel offers a realistically mercurial protagonist struggling with her identity in Spanish Harlem.
Fourteen-year-old Rosa María Evelyn del Carmen Serrano is frustrated with life in El Barrio. Tired of working for her mother and stepfather in their bodega, she takes a job at a five-and-dime and hopes to trudge through the rest of the summer. Everything changes when her abuela arrives, taking over Evelyn’s bedroom and bearing secrets of the family’s involvement in Puerto Rico’s tumultuous history. When a group called the Young Lords begins working to bring positive changes to the neighborhood, some residents are resistant, including Evelyn’s mother. Led by her grandmother’s example, Evelyn begins to take an interest in the efforts of the activist group. As the months pass, the three generations of women begin to see one another’s perspectives, and Evelyn realizes the importance of her Puerto Rican heritage. Like most real-world teens, she changes subtly, rather than through one earth-shattering epiphany. The author effectively captures this shifting perception in the dialogue and Evelyn’s first-person narration. Secondary characters of surprising dimension round out the plot and add to the novel’s cultural authenticity, as do the Spanish and Spanglish words and phrases sprinkled throughout the text so seamlessly that a glossary would be moot.
A stunning debut. (author’s note, recommended reading) (Historical novel. 12 & up)