How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

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It's a long way from Santo Domingo to the Bronx, but if anyone can go the distance, it's the Garcia girls. Four lively latinas plunged from a pampered life of privilege on an island compound into the big-city chaos of New York, they rebel against Mami and Papi's old-world discipline and embrace all that America has to offer.

It's a long way from Santo Domingo to the Bronx, but if anyone can go the distance, it's the Garcia girls. Four lively latinas plunged from a ...

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How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

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It's a long way from Santo Domingo to the Bronx, but if anyone can go the distance, it's the Garcia girls. Four lively latinas plunged from a pampered life of privilege on an island compound into the big-city chaos of New York, they rebel against Mami and Papi's old-world discipline and embrace all that America has to offer.

It's a long way from Santo Domingo to the Bronx, but if anyone can go the distance, it's the Garcia girls. Four lively latinas plunged from a pampered life of privilege on an island compound into the big-city chaos of New York, they rebel against Mami and Papi's old-world discipline and embrace all that America has to offer.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The chronicle of a family in exile that is forced to find a new identity in a new land, these 15 short tales, grouped into three sections, form a rich, novel-like mosaic. Alvarez, whose first fiction this is, has an ear for the dialogue of non-natives, and the strong flavors of Dominican syntax and cultural values permeate these pages. Many parallels may be drawn between these stories and Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. Central to both are young, first generation American females in rebellion against their immigrant elders, and in both books the stories pile up with layers of multiple points of view and overlapping experiences, building to a sense of family myths in the making. The four Garcia daughters, whom we meet as adults but then re-encounter as children as the narrative flows backward in time, are accustomed to a prestigious perch in Spanish Caribbean society. But political upheavals force Papi and Mami to seek refuge in a more modest way of life in the Bronx, and their little girls become transplants who thrive and desire a far bigger embrace of this new world than the elder Garcias can contemplate or accept. This is an account of parallel odysseys, as each of the four daughters adapts in her own way, and a large part of Alvarez's Gar cia's accomplishment is the complexity with which these vivid characters are rendered. (May)
Children's Literature - Marilyn Courtot
Fifteen interconnected stories portray with warmth and humor the assimilation of a Dominican doctor's family into urban American culture.
Library Journal
This rollicking, highly original first novel tells the story (in reverse chronological order) of four sisters and their family, as they become Americanized after fleeing the Dominican Republic in the 1960s. A family of privilege in the police state they leave, the Garcias experience understandable readjustment problems in the United States, particularly old world patriarch Papi. The sisters fare better but grow up conscious, like all immigrants, of living in two worlds. There is no straightforward plot; rather, vignettes (often exquisite short stories in their own right) featuring one or more of the sisters--Carle, Sandi, Yolanda, and Fifi--at various stages of growing up are strung together in a smooth, readable story. Alvarez is a gifted, evocative storyteller of promise.-- Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., Va.
School Library Journal
YA-- This sensitive story of four sisters who must adjust to life in America after having to flee from the Dominican Republic is told through a series of episodes beginning in adulthood, when their lives have been shaped by U. S. mores, and moving backwards to their wealthy childhood on the island. Adapting to American life is difficult and causes embarrassment when friends meet their parents, anger as they are bullied and called ``spics,'' and identity confusion following summer trips to the family compound in the Dominican Republic. These interconnected vignettes of family life, resilience, and love are skillfully intertwined and offer young adults a perspective on immigration and families as well as a look at America through Hispanic eyes. This unique coming-of-age tale is a feast of stories that will enchant and captivate readers.-- Pam Spencer, Thomas Jefferson Sci-Tech, Fairfax County, VA
The Washington Post Book World

"Subtle . . . Powerful . . . Reveals the intricacies of family, the impact of culture and place, and the profound power of language." —The San Diego Tribune
The Cleveland Plain Dealer
"[A] joy to read." —The Cleveland Plain Dealer
The San Diego Tribune

"Poignant . . . Powerful . . . Beautifully capture[s] the threshold experience of the new immigrant, where the past is not yet a memory.” —The New York Times Book Review
The New York Times Book Review

"[A] joy to read." —The Cleveland Plain Dealer
From the Publisher

"A clear-eyed look at the insecurity and yearning for a sense of belonging that are a part of the immigrant experience . . . Movingly told." —The Washington Post Book World
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780780731073
  • Publisher: Perfection Learning
  • Publication date: 6/28/1992
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Julia  Alvarez

Julia Alvarez left the Dominican Republic for the United States in 1960 at the age of ten. A novelist, poet, and essayist, she is the author of nineteen books, including How the García Girls Lost Their Accents,In the Time of the Butterflies—a National Endowment for the Arts Big Read Selection—Yo!, Something to Declare, In the Name of Salome, Saving theWorld, A Wedding in Haiti, and The Woman I Kept to Myself. Her work has garnered wide recognition, including the 2013 National Medal of Arts, a Latina Leader Award in Literature in 2007 from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, the 2002 Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature, the 2000 Woman of the Year by Latina magazine, and inclusion in the New York Public Library’s 1996 program “The Hand of the Poet: Original Manuscripts by 100 Masters, from John Donne to Julia Alvarez.” A writer-in-residence at Middlebury College, Alvarez and her husband, Bill Eichner, established Alta Gracia, an organic coffee farm–literacy arts center, in her homeland, the Dominican Republic.
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    1. Hometown:
      Middlebury, Vermont
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 27, 1950
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Middlebury College, 1971; M.F.A., Syracuse University, 1975

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 107 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 107 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2009

    How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

    I recently read the book "How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents" by Julia Alvarez. This book involved a family whose father, Papi, was part of the rebellion against the dictator of the Dominican Republic during the 1950's. When the father's actions put the rest of the family in more and more danger, it becomes necessary for them to move away from their beloved home to the scandalous United States of America.
    The Garcia family has always been very conservative and traditional. When they move to the United States the mother, Mami, struggles to keep the four girls under control. She will find this to be an even larger challenge than expected when the young girls' peers are all more educated in sex and the body than she could ever have dreamed. As the story unwinds, we find these four girls, Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofia trying to break from their parents' old-fashioned ways.
    The narrator rotates from Mami, Papi, Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofia as each tells us about a focal point in their adolescence and first experiences as Americans. Slowly, we learn more about each character as the stories are told, starting from their adulthood and as each page turns, moving back to their childhood in the Dominican.
    "How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents" was a very confusing book that I did not enjoy. The switching of narrators with no warning or way of knowing who was talking until the chapter was half over left me flipping pages back and forth and re-reading things as I attempted to understand what was going on. For example the book begins with the narration of an author who is not actually experiencing the events she describes: "The old aunts lounge in the white wicker armchairs, flipping open their fans, snapping them shut" (Alvarez 3). The author continues to narrate as if looking in on her characters, until the fifth chapter where we suddenly switch randomly to Yolanda: "For a brief few giddy years, I was the one with the reputation among my sisters of being the wild one" (Alvarez 86).
    Even more obnoxious than the random narration flops, was the fact that the stories in the book were unrelated. At one moment I would read about a character having a bad break up with her boyfriend, and just a few pages later I would read about troubles a character was having with her mental health. The only constant throughout the book were the characters, and it seemed as if the book should have been a collection of intriguing short stories, rather than a flowing novel. In conclusion, I would not recommend this book to anyone, and if looking for a window into a new culture I would suggest a story that has a clearer plot.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2011

    Great Book - Perfect for any Reader!

    I have just recently finished reading this book, and I believe that it is titled perfectly to describe events and cultural things that have changed for the Garcia girls throughout their childhood. The girls don't literally lose their accents, but throughout the novel they start losing things from their lives in the Dominican Republic. I think Julia Alvarez titled the book this way to describe how the Garcia girls became more Americanized and started forgetting about their heritage and culture.
    The largest influential change in the girls' lives that would allow them to "lose their accents" would be when the de la Torre family moved to America. They moved to escape the dangers of home and hoped to create a new life in America. Their parents are the only people in America that continue to try to live life as if they were still in the Dominican Republic. Their mother is a stickler about how young ladies should act and conduct themselves. Their father believes that American children are influencing the behaviors of his daughters. The girls are also learning English in school each day. They are learning quickly. Their mother already knows English, but their father is not entirely fluent. The family has to help him out.
    The Garcia girls have become very comfortable in America. They no longer dream of the day when they can go back to the Dominican Republic. They still visit every summer, but they enjoy their time in America. Each Garcia girl is different from the others and they each lead promising lives in America as they continue to go to school, write, or raise families.
    I would recommend this book to anyone! And I will definitely read another book by Julia Alvarez. I really enjoyed her style of writing!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2013


    I hate it i dont understand it

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2013


    I also did not enjoy this book. The constantly changing point-of-view is confusing and there seems to be no real plot, just a mishmash of stories. Don't waste your time!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 2, 2011

    Check it out!

    I believe that Julia Alvarez intended this book to be read by teenagers just moving to another country. I think she wanted to show these people that when they move to another country, it takes time for them to fit in and get along with everyone else. She does this by telling stories that happened to them as they moved to America and tried to fit into the American lifestyle. By telling different stories for each girl she showed that each person goes through something different when they move to a new country. She also wanted to show them that they should not fully lose their culture that they were taught in their home country. One way she did this was showing how Yolanda went back to the Dominican Republic after spending many years in America and getting use to life there. Another way she shows this is by going backwards in time because it shows how much they have changed, but also how they have remained the same throughout the years away from their home country. Also she wants to show these people that they should not do certain things that they do not want to because of how they are raised. This happens when Yolanda meets Rudy and did not want to have sexual relations with him because she did not believe in it. I think that she wrote it to this group of people because there are a lot of people who have to go through this everyday and she wanted to show them that it takes time to fit into the culture of a new culture.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 6, 2011

    Kritters Ramblings

    I took a moment before I wrote this review because I wanted to pull all my thoughts together. I read this book for a book club and I just wasn't sure how I really felt about this one.

    I flip flopped back and forth as to whether I liked the fact that the book started in the present and went back in time with each set of stories. I love flashbacks, but I am not sure if I like going backwards in time - makes for hard reading. I had to take mental note as to the ages of the girls, where they were located and what was going on, it was hard.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It was very interesting to read a book that was out of my culture and out of my normal realm of reading. I know that this story could be close to a true story because I have a great friend from my Enterprise Rent a Car days who was Panama (not the city, the country) and she had stories of her "Tias" and all of her cousins.

    I would recommend this book to all of my friends who love to read stories involving sisters and families. This is a great read about how a family becomes what it has and how the smallest events affect each one in the family.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 14, 2010

    How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents Book Review

    The title of the book I read is, "How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents", and is written by Julia Alvarez. The theme is culture clash. It has to do with the changes the four girls (Carla, Sandi, Yolanda, Fifi) go through when they move to America. Their conservative Latin ways of life clashes with the fast paced, non-conservative American style of living. This theme is incorporated a lot throughout the book because when Yolanda was in college, she didn't know much about American slang, her morals were different than Americans, and she acted differently than Americans. She acted differently because of her culture and where she grew up (Dominican Republic). The main character is Yolanda (yoyo for short). I think she is the main character because out of the whole family, she is talked about most throughout the whole book. Julia wrote mostly about Yolanda, with in-depth descriptions of her relationship struggles, her thought process about her move to America, and what she thought of people. She doesn't play a very important part, I don't think any of the girls do, but I think without her in the story, and it wouldn't be as interesting. Her life was always filled with the most drama, at one point she gets checked into a mental hospital because of her problems. This book is about a family with four girls that comes to New York from the Dominican Republic, and the hard times that they go through. It takes place in the 60's, so you can imagine an immigrated Spanish family would get a lot of racial issues (which are mentioned in the story). Throughout the book, each of the four girls had different struggles, which include relationship issues, drug abuse, and mental un-healthiness. It's basically, in my opinion, the life stories of four sisters (and occasionally mentioning their parent's lives). I think the title is more of a figurative statement, about how the girls are kind of becoming real Americans, and changing from their old ways and their old lifestyle, to what is popular in America at that time. I did not like this book very much. I found the whole storyline a bit confusing. If I'm correct, the book started out when they were adults, and worked its way back to when the girls were kids. In the first 100 pages, it focused on when they were grownups, and even when Yolanda was in college. In the last 50 or s, it was all about their childhood and memories associated with it. Like every book, "How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents" had its good drama-filled chapters in it; but all in all, I did not like it a whole lot. I wouldn't recommend this book. I found it a little bit interesting and entertaining, but I found it was mostly dull. I didn't enjoy it all that much, as said before it was quite confusing because of its structure.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2005

    Pretty good

    This novel is about a family that flees from the Dominican Republic to the U.S. In the foreign nation, the family tries to cope with racism and assimilate into American culture. I think the author, Julia Alvarez did a great job describing through interesting anecdotes, the difficulties that the immigrants faced, and how they gradually became Americans. I think she was able to talk about incidents she put in her book so realistically because she immigragted to America in the 1960s from the Dominican Republic just like the characters in the book. Each chapter consists of one anecdote and some of them are very serious while others are humorous. This quality makes the book truly an enjoyable one to read. In a chapter entitled 'Snow' Alvarez talks about how a Dominican girl who just immigrated thought that white particles (snow) were from the explosion of a nuclear bomb. What happened seems very realistic because in the 1960s, there was still a threat of a nuclear bomb being dropped in the U.S. so students were being taught at school how to protect themselves. It shows how the Dominican girl was not completely an American yet even though she spoke English. I really liked this chapter because I had a similar experience. There were also serious parts in this book which I gained a lot from. In the chapter 'The Blood of the Conquistadores,' I learned about the political unrest in the Dominican Republic in the mid-1950s, which I previously had no knowledge about. It also helped me to understand why so many Dominicans immigrated to the U.S. during that time. The organization of the book was effective. It is written in reverse chronological order unlike most novels, which makes it unique. There was not much of a suspense because I already knew what happened when I read about the main characters anticipating an event. However, it was quite interesting to read what the characters wanted and expected after learning what actually happened. Reading about the event and then what happened before the event sometimes answered my questions as to why an event happened in such a manner. I also liked that the author wrote in different points of view. Since she wrote in the voices of the four girls, I felt much closer to the characters because it was as if the girls were talking to me. The different voices that Alvarez used for each of the four girls also added to their personalities. However, this novel has a couple weak points. It has so many characters that it is very hard to keep track of them all unless you pay really close attention. The author provides the readers with a lot of information on the characters, so for me it was hard to remember which of the Garcia girls did what. Also, the author calls Mr. Garcia several names including 'Papi' and 'Carlos' so it is easy to get confused and think they are different people. Furthermore, before reading this book, I had no knowledge of Spanish, so I was very bewildered by the numerous Spanish phrases and titles (for people) that were used. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a book to read lightly because it doesn't contain difficult vocabulary and is fun to read. I think it would be more interesting for people who have had experiences in another culture as a foreigner because they would be able to relate at least a little bit to the main characters. I wouldn't suggest reading this book to find out how immigrants' lives were in general in th 1960s when they moved to America because it only provides the experiences of a single wealthy family that came from the Dominican Republic.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2004

    Who Is She Writing About

    This is the problem with 'ethnic' texts, they bear the responsibility of overrespresentation. Today, dominicans are migrating in high numbers, and are not living the lives in the U.S. found in this book. Julia Alvarez, while claims Dominican, does not write the typical immigrant experience. In using a venue of such mass appeal, one must make this clear. We cannot forget that there are readers who are not familiar with the tragic stories of Dominican migrants, and will use this text to form their opinion of the matter. This is not to silence Julia Alvarez, but what I am asking is the recognition of her responsibility of differentiating her fiction from our reality. Julia Alvarez, might have lost her accent, but the 1.1. million Dominicans living in the United States might beg to differ.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2002


    Julia Alvarez's How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents is a badly written book in many ways: sentence structure is difficult to follow, and she writes in translation: she is thinking in Spanish and doing a bad translation into English. As a native speaker of Spanish, I spotted countless errors in translation in which the meaning becomes obscured. She neglects to mention the issues of class and race. In Dominican culture, persons of African descent, with kinky hair and skin as dark as Wesley or Denzel or darker, face more discrimination in the D.R. than they do in the U.S. Also, the sharp class divisions mean that while the Alvarez family has maids and tutors, the average Dominican is living on near-starvation wages and is barely literate. I was very disappointed in the book and believe the popularity was due to the fact that the book was fluff. Alvarez does not challenge the reader to think about difficult issues. Writing a book about the Dominican experience without delving into problems of race and class is like writing a book about Gay men without mentioning the A.I.D.S plague or writing a book about the Civil Rights Movement without mentioning Martin Luther King. Those of us who are people of color cannot avoid thinking about race. However, people of European descent CHOOSE whether to think about race, whether to care about the inequities that exist due to racial prejudice. In the D.R., Alvarez is white. And if you read the book, you will see that she chose not to think about race. She chose the safe route.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2014

    Good but confusing

    I understood what the girls were going through but i didnt get why the family had to hide from SIM. Many parts i didng understand what they were talking about i couldnt even picture it. I noticed only at the middle that it was going back in time and it was just more confusing. Why did yolanda throw the cat schwarz when she wanted it. It was a good story learning how these girls adapted to a new land but it was confusng at times.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2013

    Read and annotated

    Reading books in school has a habit of putting me off. It was difficult for me to enjoy this book because of the pacing and requirement of deep philospical questioning.also, the content of the book was a bit of a turn away, even for someone as well read as myself. I would recomend this as a library borrow, not an investment.

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  • Posted March 19, 2013


    Ms Alvarez's presentation is unusual, but once you realize she is going back in time, not too bad. As a person who emigrated to the United States at the age of 5, I can identify with the difficulties the girls experienced. It is a rite of passage that is bittersweet. Ms Alvarez captures the feelings well: No soy ni de aqui ni de aya.

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  • Posted March 8, 2013

    Slow reading

    Interesting to read of the chaos caused at the end of Trujillo's reign of terror in the country but not enough info about what was going on. I found that it was difficult to remain motivated although I did read the whole thing. I'm not sure if I'll read the other book by this author that I have in my "to reads" in the very near future.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2013

    My last name is Garcia by bllod and i cine from cuba and spain.

    Am i special?

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 15, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Cougar H

    I learned that there four daughter carla,sandra,yolanda and sofia belong to this spanish asociaty from the conquistadores.There family visits this palacio dictators daughter.So when Dr Garcia Apart to its attemp to discover something.They went to new york city in 1960 to there life so far from there exsistence the dominican replublic.
    the girls are having troubles speaking spanish and there strategies. but there are trying to live it up and tryin to tell there father that they want america boyfriends. and they still want those traditinal things. they go to schools they all go together they all went to there class but sandra got caught by having a bag of weed she got introuble they send her to colombia and she stayed there everybody was worried mad and cryin sad asking questions however it had to be that way.
    she went to a new world in columbia and a old world new york she has
    to decide wich one and not to be bad at alll
    Dr Garcia teaches her to be a good girl and what does weed do to your body and brain she thought it was bad so she stoped and that momment her american boyfriend came she took her home and lost her accent to her family and never heard of them again.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 26, 2011

    Outstanding novel, a must read

    This novel was a really good one. The way it was written, it really made it seem realistic. Families have had to go through things like what the Garcia family went through. I can read this novel over and over again.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2010

    Disappointing, for its intended purpose

    My son was assigned this book for "required" reading at school. I had hoped there would be more reading of the classics in freshman year, but I presume this was a book geared toward learning about diversity.

    My son reported that most of his peers were not impressed with the book and its strange and brutal ending. I find it odd that educational institutions continue to push books with brutal or haunting imagery to kids (e.g. Steinbeck's The Pearl, another required read in middle school) under the umbrella of educational learning. My son really doesn't like these kinds of novels. He finds them disturbing, but perhaps he's not desensitized to violence as many teens are these days.

    Since I have not read the book, I can only say that my son did not like it. Sorry - an educational opportunity lost because it was just too edgy.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 15, 2009

    How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez

    I read the book How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez. I enjoyed reading this book and found it interesting to learn about people from different cultures. This book is about four Hispanic sisters from The Dominican Republic. Sofia, Carla, Yolanda, and Sandra Garcia all moved from their beloved home in The Dominican to the United States. For each of the sisters, the move was very hard because their whole family lived in The Dominican Republic and it was where they all grew up. In the United States the girls were forced to transition into the modern American teenager. For some of the sisters this was easy, but for others, living in another culture was quite difficult. They were all faced with cahllenges such as being made fun of, or being pressured into something that their parents would not aprove of. In the book you will read about how the girls adapted into Americans. They met men from America and went to college. They got married and had children of their own. I found that this book was a little confusing in the beginning because I wasn't exactly sure who the characters were since they weren't really introduced, but towards the end it makes more sence. In this book I enjoyed that each of the sisters were very different. For example Sofia was the more adventurous girl, while Yolanda liked to stay true to her culture. In the book there is many different stories told by each of the 4 girls and also by there mami and papi. I found the stories interesting and fun to read because it showed exactly how difficult is was for them to adapt to living in the United States. I wouldn't recomend this book to everyone because it is confusing to understand at times. I would recomend this to anyone who enjoys reading about cultures and learning about different types of people. The book isn't very long and its pretty easy to read and understand. Overall I liked this book but it wasn't my favorite.

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  • Posted November 11, 2009

    Nice Story

    I thought this was a great story about four girls, working backwards from adulthood in the United States to childhood in the Dominican Republic, before exile. Alvarez spends equal time on each character, so the reader can relate easily to each one. One aspect of the story that I have to criticize is that at first it seemed like beach reading, but once I got into the story, it was very enjoyable and intellectually stimulating.

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