Cofer's (Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood) 12 consistently sparkling, sharp short stories pungently recreate the atmosphere of a Puerto Rican barrio in Paterson, N.J. A different teenager is the focus of each entry, but the characters and the settings throughout are linked, often to great effect. In the poignant "Don Jos of La Mancha,'' Yolanda observes both critically and sympathetically as her widowed mother gingerly approaches a new relationship—with a man Yolanda considers a clueless hick; the reader has previously met Yolanda in "The One Who Watches,'' in which Yolanda's friend Doris describes the fear and anger she experiences as Yolanda goes shoplifting. In the surreally horrifying "Matoa's Mirror,'' Kenny gets high on a mixture of drugs and then watches himself in a mirror, as if he's on TV, while he is getting beaten up outside his building. The overarching theme—the struggle to transcend one's roots but never succeeding (nor really wanting to)—is explored with enormous humanity and humor. This fine collection may draw special attention for its depictions of an ethnic group underserved by YA writers, but Cofer's strong writing warrants a close look no matter what the topic. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)
The ALAN Review
- Nancy E. Zuwiyya
In these twelve short stories, Coffer explores ethnicity in Paterson, New Jersey, where these Puerto Rican teenagers live. They complain about parents and trapped lives but also discuss boyfriends and beauty secrets. Coffer shows how teenagers think and respond in stereotypes. She lets the reader see that stereotypical thinking also has affected the way the reader reads. Not only do these teenagers reject their grandparents, but they also reject retarded adults, unwed teen mothers, and their heritage. Coffer also utilizes local color and the Spanish language to validate the experiences of these teenagers, whether at the local pool, the school, or El Building. Most of the stories are told from a first-person female point of view. A couple are third-person with a male protagonist. Students will learn much about perspective. Reading Coffer's book is like living in El Building and getting to know the neighborhood.
"Dating is not a concept adults in our barrio really get." The contemporary teenage voices are candid, funny, weary, and irreverent in these stories about immigrant kids caught between their Puerto Rican families and the pull and push of the American dream. The young people hang out on the street in front of the tenement El Building in Paterson, New Jersey, where the radios are always turned full blast to the Spanish station and the thin walls can't hold the dramas of the real-life "telenovelas." As in her autobiographical adult collection Silent Dancing (1990), Cofer depicts a diverse neighborhood that's warm, vital, and nurturing, and that can be hell if you don't fit in. Some of the best stories are about those who try to leave. Each piece stands alone with its own inner structure, but the stories also gain from each other, and characters reappear in major and minor roles. The teen narrators sometimes sound too articulate, their metaphors overexplained, but no neat resolutions are offered, and the metaphor can get it just right (the people next door "could be either fighting or dancing"). Between the generations, there is tenderness and anger, sometimes shame. In one story, a teenage girl despises the newcomer just arrived from the island, but to her widowed mother, the hick ("jibaro") represents all she's homesick for. Raul Colon's glowing cover captures what's best about this collection: the sense of the individual in the pulsing, crowded street.