Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida

Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida

4.0 33
by Victor Martinez, Steve Scott

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Dad believed people were like money. You could be a thousand-dollar person or a hundred-dollar person -- even a ten-, five-, or one-dollar person. Below that, everybody was just nickels and dimes. To my dad, we were pennies.

Fourteen-year-old Manny Hernandez wants to be more than just a penny. He wants to be a

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Dad believed people were like money. You could be a thousand-dollar person or a hundred-dollar person -- even a ten-, five-, or one-dollar person. Below that, everybody was just nickels and dimes. To my dad, we were pennies.

Fourteen-year-old Manny Hernandez wants to be more than just a penny. He wants to be a vato firme, the kind of guy people respect. But that's not easy when your father is abusive, your brother can't hold a job, and your mother scrubs the house as if she can wash her troubles away.

In Manny's neighborhood, the way to get respect is to be in a gang. But Manny's not sure that joining a gang is the solution. Because, after all, it's his life -- and he wants to be the one to decide what happens to it.

Editorial Reviews

The ALAN Review - Jennifer Norris
Filled with enough metaphors to impress any English teacher, Parrot in the Oven: mi vida is a story told by a teenage Mexican American boy, Manny, who is attempting to find his place in a society full of disappointment. Set in the projects, Manny gives a very realistic account of what it is like to grow up as a minority in a poor, dysfunctional home. Receiving no real direction from his family, Manny battles with what type of man he should and will become. He is tempted by gang life (in his attempt to be accepted somewhere), but at the same time, he seems to have a pure heart that prohibits him from falling too far. The coming of age plot is further complicated by Manny's family life. His father is an out of work alcoholic who is incapable of giving guidance to his floundering son. His mother is the peace-keeper, mainly concerned with damage control. His older brother (who has a steady stream of jobs that don't ever seem to work out) seems to be on the same path as his alcoholic father. His teen-age sister deals with sexual issues including the miscarriage of her baby. With themes such as honor, abuse, and alcoholism, this coming of age novel is very readable for upper middle/high school students; however, teachers should be aware of the controversial issues within the novel: drugs, alcohol, language, and the graphic miscarriage. Because of the novel's extremely realistic teenage voice, this novel is reminiscent of S. E. Hinton's Tex or The Outsiders and therefore would definitely gain the interest of the high school reader.
The ALAN Review - Rob Linné
Manny Hernandez endures a lot during the year that leads up to his initiation into a California gang. He learns about hard work out in the sweltering vegetable fields and experiences class stratification at a high school party where he is not welcomed. Manny helps his older sister through a life-threatening miscarriage but almost takes his younger brother's life when he accidentally fires his father's shotgun. The young protagonist narrates all of these events with a future writer's eye for detail and a unique take on human character. Martinez's coming-of-age story reads like true adolescence - absurd and funny from a distance, yet painful when you're stuck in the middle of it all. I already lost one afternoon to this bitter-sweet book and now I've picked it up again. I think many reluctant readers would also have a hard time turning away once Manny started talking straight to them about what growing up is really all about.
Children's Literature - Sherri Byrand
"Miracles don't wait for doubters," says Manny Hernandez, this book's main character and a youth worthy of our attention. This account of his life is a miracle of its own-powerful and poignant, stunning in its simplicity. Although it introduces some very heavy issues, including Manny's sister who miscarries her child at home and his father's alcoholism and abusiveness, its approach makes this book appropriate for even the youngest members of its intended audience. It never slips into the callous tones of a cynical adult; every page resonates with Manny's voice. Given the book's subject matters, it is an excellent resource for classroom discussion on the topics of spousal abuse, gangs, and racism.

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
4.36(w) x 6.72(h) x 0.64(d)
Age Range:
13 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Baseball Glove

That summer my brother, Bernardo, or "Nardo," as we call him, flipped through more jobs than a thumb through a deck of cards. First he was a dishwasher, then a busboy, then a parking attendant and, finally, a patty turner for some guy who never seemed to be in his hamburger stand for more than ten minutes at a time. (Mom believed he sold marijuana, or did some other illegal shamelessness.) Nardo lost one job for not showing up regular enough, another for showing up too regular -- the boss hated his guts. The last job lost him when the owner of the hamburger stand packed up unexpectedly and left for Canada...

The job Nardo misses most, though, was when he worked as a busboy for the Bonneville Lakes Golf and Catering Service. He says it was the only time he ever got to touch elbows with rich people. The parties they catered served free daiquiris, whisky drinks and cold beer, really cold, in big barrels choking with ice. At some parties, like the one he got fired from, they passed out tickets for juicy prizes like motorcycles, TV sets, stereos and snow skis. The last party had a six-piece band and a great huge dance floor so the "old fogies," as my brother called them, could get sloshed and make fools of themselves.

As it turns out, he and a white guy named Randy took off their busboy jackets and began daring each other to get a ticket and ask a girl to dance. Randy bet Nardo wouldn't do it, and Nardo bet he would, and after a two-dollar pledge he steered for the ticket lady.

"I could've hashed it around a bit, you know, Manny," he said. "I could've double- and triple-dared the guy a couple of times over,then come up with a good excuse. But that ain't my style."

Instead he tapped Randy's fingers smooth as fur and walked up to the ticket lady. She peered out from behind the large butcher-paper-covered table at the blotches of pasta sauce on his black uniform pants and white shirt -- which were supposed to go clean with the catering service's light-orange busboy jacket, but didn't -- and said, "Ah, what the hell," and tore him out a tag.

Before the little voice nagging inside him could talk louder, Nardo asked the nearest girl for a dance. She had about a million freckles and enough wire in her mouth to run a toy train over. They stumbled around the dance floor until the band mercifully ground to a halt. She looked down at his arm kind of shylike and said, "You dance real nice."

Now my brother had what you could call a sixth sense. "Es muy vivo," as my grandma used to say about a kid born that way, and with Nardo it was pretty much a scary truth. He could duck trouble better than a champion boxer could duck a right cross. He made hairline escapes from baths, belt whippings and scoldings just by not being around when punishment came through the door. So I believed him when he said something ticklish crawled over his shoulder, and when he turned around, there, across the dance floor, in front of the bandleader about to make an announcement over the microphone, was his boss, Mr. Baxter-and boy was he steamed!

Mr. Baxter owned the catering service, and sometimes, my brother said, the way he'd yell at the busboys, it was like he owned them, too. Mr. Baxter didn't say anything, just pointed to the door, then at Nardo, and scratched a big X across his chest. Just like that, he was fired.

The way Nardo tells it, you'd think he did that man a favor working for him. "Don't you ever get braces, Manny," he said, as if that were the lesson he'd learned.

At first Nardo didn't want to go to the fields. Not because of pride, although he'd have used that excuse at the beginning if he could've gotten away with it. It was more because, like anyone else, he didn't like sobbing out tears of sweat in 110-degree sun. That summer was a scorcher, maybe the worst in all the years we'd lived in that valley desert, which our town would've been if the irrigation pumped in from the Sierra were turned off. I could tell how searing it was by the dragged-out way my mom's roses drooped every morning after I watered them. The water didn't catch hold. The roses only sighed a moment before the sun sucked even that little breather away.

Although it was hard for Nardo to duck my mom's accusing eyes, especially when Magda, my sister, came home slumped from the laundry after feeding bedsheets all day into a steam press, he was refusing to work anymore. Whether one tried threats, scoldings, or even shaming, which my mom tried almost every other day, nothing worked. We all gave it a shot, but none more vigorously than my dad. He'd yell and stomp around a little space of anger he'd cut in our living room, a branch of spit dangling from his lip. He'd declare to the walls what a good-for-nothing son he had, even dare Nardo to at least be man enough to join the Army. He vowed to sign the papers himself, since Nardo wasn't old enough.

The thing was, my dad wasn't working either. He'd just lost his job as a translator for the city because he'd drink beer during lunch and slur his words. Ever since losing his job, and even before, really, Dad had about as much patience as you could prop on a toothpick. He was always zeroing in on things he wanted to be disappointed in, and when he found one, he'd loose a curse quicker than an eyeblink. Even when he wasn't cursing, you could still feel one simmering there under his lip, ready to boil over.

Parrot in the Oven. Copyright © by Victor Martinez. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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