The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez

The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez

4.7 4
by Alan Lawrence Sitomer

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Sonia Rodriguez was born in the United States, but her parents are Mexican immigrants who came to California before she was born. Her father has three Social Security numbers, her mother is pregnant (again), and neither of them speaks English. Sonia's mother spends most of her time in bed, watching soap operas, and letting Sonia clean up after her brothers. Sonia's


Sonia Rodriguez was born in the United States, but her parents are Mexican immigrants who came to California before she was born. Her father has three Social Security numbers, her mother is pregnant (again), and neither of them speaks English. Sonia's mother spends most of her time in bed, watching soap operas, and letting Sonia clean up after her brothers. Sonia's father works dutifully to support his family, but he knows that his daughter's dreams are bigger than making tamales for family get-togethers. When Sonia attempts to put school work before her familia, her mother decides that it's time for Sonia to visit her grandmother in Mexico to learn "the ways of the old world." While in Mexico, Sonia gets to know her wise grandmother and her cousin Maria, who teach her that while familia is important, the most important thing is to follow your heart. Sonia returns to the States determined to succeed in school, but the birth of her new twin siblings, inappropriate advances from her drunk uncle (Drunkle), and a forbidden relationship with an El Salvadorian boy push school to the back burner. If only Sonia can find the time to cook dinner, secretly meet with her boyfriend, avoid her Drunkle, AND finish her homework, she just might be able to graduate from high school. . . .

Editorial Reviews

Kevin Kienholz
Sonia Rodriguez lives each day caught between two worlds. As the only daughter in the family, she struggles to balance the demanding old-world expectations of her traditional Hispanic household with the expectations of her friends and teachers at her California high school, as well as her dream to become the first in her family to graduate. The trajectory of Sonia's life ultimately hinges upon two important events—her decision to focus on doing whatever it takes to graduate from high school coupled with a trip to Mexico to visit with her grandmother. She notes that the important story she has to tell involves "sex and violence and drugs . . . . But there is love too." In telling her own secret story, Sonia follows through on this promise (directly and frankly, at times) and finds not only her voice, but also a way to reconcile the best of both of her worlds. Reviewer: Kevin Kienholz
VOYA - Ruth Cox Clark
Sitomer focuses on Sonfa, the best friend of Tee-Ay from Hip-Hop High School (Hyperion, 2006/VOYA April 2006) who dreams of going to college in two years when she graduates. In the moments she has to herself, she hits the books or escapes the constant demands at home by visiting a kitten at the local pet store. There she meets Rodrigo, a Central American boy whom she begins to see secretly. Just before school gets out, Sonfa is sent to stay with her abuelita in rural Mexico in hopes that it will remind her of her place as a female. Sonfa comes to respect her grandmother's resiliency as well as the inner strength of her cousin, who is raising a deaf child alone, and she returns home just as determined to make something of herself. She quietly resumes her duties of cooking, cleaning, and taking care of her younger siblings while her pregnant mother watches telenovelas. These tasks she can handle, but what Sonfa cannot handle is her lecherous uncle whom she calls her "drunkle.o This less-than-flattering look at a Mexican American teen's home life also highlights the gentle strength of Sonfa's hardworking father, who is there when she needs him most. Spanish phrases pepper the text but can be easily translated via contextual clues. Humor lightens the tone of this book, but it often borders on didactic in that Sonfa's actions and dialogue can read much like a "lesson." Nevertheless it will be popular with Sitomer's fans as well as with readers looking for books with strong female Hispanic characters. Reviewer: Ruth Cox Clark
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
Sonia is the friend of Tee-Ay, a main character from Sitomer's Hip-Hop High School. Sitomer is an award-winning teacher in the California school system, in fact California's 2007 Teacher of the Year. This means he has met many students like Sonia and like Tee-Ay and their siblings. It's hard for me to know how Mexican Americans will respond to this novel. If it had been written by one of their own, perhaps it would be a different story. By the way, throughout there is cursing, earthiness (bathroom humor), and sexual references, so be prepared. Within Sonia's family is every possible kind of person, every "stereotypical" image of Mexican Americans: the hardworking (undocumented immigrant) father who will do anything for his family; the lazy, obese mother who has no ambition for her children, is demanding and critical, and has too many babies; Sonia's older brother, drop-out, drug dealer, macho and empty; Sonia's drunken uncle, sexual predator; and Aunt Tia, always looking for the devil's work, especially in Sonia's ambitions. Sonia is a smart student, a responsible daughter. She wants to be the first in the family to finish high school, but her mother's demands that she stay home from school to help with the new baby twins interfere with that ambition. Always, Sonia is in fear of her uncle's sexual advances but afraid to report them because of the sacred familia. She falls in love with the equally ambitious and thoughtful Geraldo, but he is not acceptable to the family because he is from Central America, not from Mexico. In the summer, Sonia is sent to Mexico to the countryside to be with her grandmother. There she meets her cousin Maria and learns her desperate story.Sitomer, the author, is most sympathetic and admiring of the Mexican culture in this part of the story, suggesting that it is American culture that is corrupting. My advice would be that if your school has numerous Mexican American students, try this book out with them and ask their opinion of the story. They may not want to reveal personal family history, but whether they find the book an authentic picture of Mexican American family life, even if not their own, would be important. I would imagine that Sitomer did that kind of "research" when he wrote this novel. His portraits of high school teachers, some prejudiced against Mexican Americans, some helpful, some truly heroic, do ring true and I'm sure he knows these kinds of teachers well. This could be a breakthrough novel, but I believe only Mexican American students, especially ambitious Latinas like the Sonia character, will be the judge. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
Children's Literature - Renee Biermann
This book starts out as the typical multicultural story for teens. Sonia is caught in between two cultures: her Mexican heritage and her American upbringing. Written in the first person, readers hear Sonia's intimate thoughts about her family, life, schooling, and her hopes for the future. Sonia's biggest hurdles are her drunkle (her drunk uncle) and her mother, who is pregnant with twins and forces Sonia to take care of the family and household. After a trip to Mexico, Sonia begins to change and take control of her life. But for every step forward, there seem to be two steps back. The main problem with this story is that Sonia is an unlikable protagonist. She allows everyone in her life to walk all over her and ignores the one person who shows her the most interest, a sweet-talking boy from the local pet store. The story is repetitive, with the same events and actions happening over and over again. Sonia spends a good portion of the book talking about bodily functions, slamming Mexicans and Mexican Americans, and complaining about her inappropriate uncle. By the time Sonia redeems herself by showing interest in school again, almost 300 pages have passed. Even then, more trouble befalls Sonia, and the book ends much like the fantasy of a young girl would have it: with a victimized girl being rescued by her boyfriend. Reviewer: Renee Biermann
School Library Journal

Gr 8-10

California-born Sonia Rodriguez, 15, the daughter of illegal Mexican immigrants, is determined to be the first high school graduate in her family. Her goal is nearly impossible to achieve when she is expected to cook, clean, and care for younger siblings while her pregnant mother lounges in bed watching telenovelas . Sonia's struggle is played out against a cast of stock characters, including her mother's obese, hyper-religious, and critical sister; her mother's alcoholic brother ("my drunkle"), who is frequently arrested and makes inappropriate sexual advances toward his niece; and her devoted, hardworking father, who seems oblivious to his family's exploitation of the daughter for whom he has high hopes. Sonia's awareness that her family's behavior reinforces negative stereotypes many Americans have about her culture strengthens her resolve to succeed. Despite her best intentions, the help of a sympathetic school counselor, and the wisdom she gains during a summer in Mexico with her grandmother, it seems that she will be defeated by her circumstances, but a surprising twist results in an uplifting ending. Sitomer, author of The Hoopster (2005) and Hip-Hop High School (2006, both Hyperion), in which Sonia appeared as a minor character, has a gift for capturing current high school culture and teen speak.-Ginny Gustin, Sonoma County Library System, Santa Rosa, CA

Kirkus Reviews
Sonia Rodriguez is the American-born daughter of illegal Mexican immigrants. Her hardworking father struggles to support the family while her pregnant mother stays in bed watching telenovelas and calling out for her daughter to run errands or do chores-tasks that her brothers are not expected to complete. Despite her duties at home, Sonia struggles to keep up with her schoolwork. When she rebels, her mother sends her to spend the summer with her grandmother in Mexico, a punishment that turns into an idyll, and rests as the strongest part of the book. When she returns, Sonia must confront her alcoholic uncle's unwelcome advances and find her place in the world. While the first-person voice attempts color and authenticity, the secondary characterizations rely on stereotypes about Mexican Americans. Although Sonia pays lip service to confronting these early on, attempts to provide complexity are undercut: Her religious aunt and perverted "drunkle" have no redeeming qualities, and her father approaches the saintly. Sonia's perspective is necessarily subjective, but her own development as a character fails to bring needed balance to these depictions. (Fiction. YA)

Product Details

Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)
800L (what's this?)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Alan Lawrence Sitomer is California's 2007 Teacher of the Year. In addition to being an inner-city high school English teacher and professor in the Graduate School of Education at Loyola Marymount University, Mr. Sitomer is a nationally renowned speaker specializing in engaging reluctant readers, who received the 2004 award for Classroom Excellence from the Southern California Teachers of English and the 2003 Teacher of the Year honor from California Literacy. His young adult trilogy of novels began with The Hoopster and Hip-Hop High School and concluded with Homeboyz. Alan is also the author of Hip-Hop Poetry and The Classics, a text used in classrooms across the United States to engage disengaged students.

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