A beguiling record of a tremendous journey, epic in its own way, from childhood in a vibrant Puerto Rican barrio to triumph at Harvard, with a defining pause in a drab Brooklyn along the way. Now a filmmaker with her own company, Santiago, eldest of 11 children, was born in a rural barrio. Her parents--the beautiful, ambitious Mami and the frustrated artist Papi--weren't married, a source of constant family tension in her childhood. Meanwhile, the family lived in a house made of rippled metal sheets, ``a giant version of the lard cans used to haul water from public fountains,'' and grew its own fruits and vegetables. But despite the crudeness, there was room to play, fresh air, and a freedom that would never be replicated in their subsequent homes as the author's mother, tiring of Papi's infidelities, moved the children time and again to town, into lodgings or relatives' homes, until reconciliations brought everyone together again. The reconciliations grew more and more infrequent, however, and Santiago, a good student, had to change schools and suffer the jeers of city-bred children, as well as adjust to the often harsh regimens imposed by the differing households she was forced to live in. Finally, after Papi categorically refused to marry her, Mami decided--after traveling to N.Y.C. with one of the children, who needed medical treatment--to move to Brooklyn. But the new house proved to be a menacing place, where ``even snow was dangerous'' as children threw deadly snow-covered rocks at one another. Santiago was ambitious, though, determined to get out of Brooklyn ``and desperate to feel grass under [my] feet instead of pavement.'' She finally got her wish by excelling academically and winning a place in New York's High School of Performing Arts. Cleareyed, quietly powerful, and often lyrical: a story of true grit.