The Smell of Old Lady Perfume

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Overview

As she starts sixth grade, 11-year-old Chela is straddling two borders, the figurative one between childhood and adolescence and the real one that divides Ciudad Juarez Mexico from El Paso.

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Overview

As she starts sixth grade, 11-year-old Chela is straddling two borders, the figurative one between childhood and adolescence and the real one that divides Ciudad Juarez Mexico from El Paso.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Phyllis Kennemer
Cella is excited about beginning sixth grade. She and her friend Nora will be in an advanced all English-speaking class for the first time. Most of the classes in Cella's El Paso school are bilingual because many families (Cella's included) speak only Spanish in their homes. But Cella's joy soon dissipates. Her beloved father suffers a stroke on the first day of school. Her grandmother arrives to help out, smelling of old lady perfume. When Cella returns to classes after the first week, she discovers that Nora is now a part of the popular girls' clique and will not speak to her. Cella becomes a loner at school. At home, she helps her father build a house for the family, strengthening their already close relationship. Soon after the house is completed, her father has another stroke. This time, his stroke is fatal. Grandmother and her smell return. This sensitively-written novel provides unique insights into a bicultural family. Reviewer: Phyllis Kennemer, Ph.D.
School Library Journal

Gr 4-6

Chela Gonzalez and her friend Nora are looking forward to sixth grade in their El Paso school. They have finally been placed in the A-class, the "smart class," which is for students who only speak English. Then Chela's father has a stroke on the first day of school, her grandmother comes to help out, and "the air became thick with the smell of old lady perfume, of dying flowers and alcohol.... It was the smell of bad things." Nora becomes a member of the popular group of girls who've decided to make her an outcast. Chela is asked to enroll in the Gifted and Talented group that meets after school, which helps to ease her loneliness. Her father suffers another stroke, fatal this time, and again the smell of old-lady perfume fills the little house. The book ends with the family trying to regroup after their loss. Chela is rewarded with the highest honor at the school's end-of-year awards ceremony-the All School Girl award. Through her pride, her sadness is also evident since her father was the one who always pushed her to do her best. This is a sweet coming-of-age story, telling of the cruelties of children toward one another and dealing with the loss of a parent. The story should appeal to readers dealing with their own tween years.-Diana Pierce, Leander High School, TX

Kirkus Reviews
An autobiographical examination of sixth grade, death and life on the border. The year starts with great promise, and Chela confides her dream to her beloved Apa: winning the All-School Girl Trophy. But Apa has a stroke on the first day of school, and when he recovers, Chela finds that during her absence popular Camila has stolen her best friend. Episodic chapters relate moments of the year, each paced like a short story but dependent upon a linear reading, slowly moving the novel to the unsurprising end. The first-person past-tense narrative creates a sense of distance that flattens characters and renders Apa's struggles with his health objectively poignant rather than emotionally resonant. The balance of life on the border of Mexico and Texas is lightly sketched but sure-handed; occasional Spanish phrases and the sense of family and community come through. Readers too young for Viola Canales's Tequila Worm (2005), which also explores life between cultures, and happy to take it slow may find this ideal. But sadly, like Apa's post-stroke diet, the novel lacks spice. (Fiction. 9-12)
From the Publisher

"Martinez’[s] highly episodic first novel is a quiet story that is filled with such coming-of-age staples as mean girls, popularity contests, first romances, sibling rivalries, and more. However, readers will also find the book’s loving portrayal of Chela’s family, its nicely realized setting, and its artful exploration of the problems of assimilation to be both engaging and heartfelt." —Booklist

"This is a sweet coming-of-age story, telling of the cruelties of children toward one another and dealing with the loss of a parent. The story should appeal to readers dealing with their own tween years." —School Library Journal

"The balance of life on the border of Mexico and Texas is lightly sketched but sure-handed; occasional Spanish phrases and the sense of family and community come through. "—Kirkus Reviews

"Setting her story in El Paso, Claudia Guadalupe Martinez gives us the gift of a real world, filled with authentic kids and family dynamics…Martinez’s prose, always animated and descriptive, is frequently quite beautiful. She is an author to watch." —Southwest Books of the Year 2008

"The Smell of Old Lady Perfume is a touching story that will teach lessons on loss, family, loneliness, and the importance of being oneself…The novel’s easy language reads like genuine narration from a sixth grader and complements the story’s complex themes" —ForeWord Magazine

"This sensitively-written novel provides unique insights into a bicultural family." —Children's Literature

"While Spanish words are interspersed with English, there are not so many that the book is difficult to read for a non-Spanish speaking person but just enough to actualize the Hispanic culture in Chela's home life and the circumstances of a bilingual student in an English-speaking school environment." —ALAN's Picks

"The original title gives a glimpse of the poetic lines peppered throughout this poignant debut." —Latinidad's Best of 2008

"I discovered I could relate to Chela's isolation at school, as well as her worries about her family…The book flows easily; this is a story that seems to be told by a person still experiencing these things…The Smell of Old Lady Perfume is a story about growing up, about seeing things in a different light." —San Antonio Express-News

"Martínez has crafted a beautiful and heartfelt journey of a girl who 'wasn't supposed to see' so much, but who 'saw all kinds of things.' Young readers, especially those navigating difficult issues such as poverty, illness, isolation, depression and death, will find a friend in Chela Gonzalez, a typical sixth-grader who learns to find strength from within in order to transcend the many troubles outside her control." —El Paso Times

"It's the first book by author Claudia Martinez, and one can hope that there are more to come… The Smell of Old Lady Perfume is the story of a young girl trying to find her way as life around her changes and she is powerless to control the changes. Love triumphs all and Chela learns that the love of family is something that never changes." —Chicago Young Adult Fiction Examiner

"In her poignant first novel, Martinez encompasses the pains of school, the loss of friends, and most importantly the library collection masterfully discusses the power of smell and how it can evoke strong emotions and memories. Tweens will easily relate to Chela’s struggles and triumphs, particularly immigrant tweens. Highly Recommended." —REFORMA Newsletter

"[Smell of Old Lady Perfume] is a melodic and melancholy tale of a girl’s sixth-grade year." —El Paso Scene

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781933693187
  • Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
  • Publication date: 7/1/2008
  • Pages: 248
  • Lexile: 730L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Claudia Guadalupe Martinez was born in El Paso, Texas. She learned that letters form words from reading the subtitles of old westerns for her father. He encouraged her to write a book. He died when Claudia was eleven. She went on to graduate from college and moved to Chicago to become one of the city's youngest non-profit executives.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 6 )
Rating Distribution

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(6)

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    An Inspiration for All Ages

    Claudia Guadalupe Martinez has written a story about the strenght of family, hope and gives us inspiration to chase our dreams. With it's humor and joy of life, this author has written a story with a message for our soul during this era: "The best way to get good things to happen is to be a good person." It is a story that anyone from every walk of life can enjoy. It makes us think about our own personal "strong still oaks." Claudia has definately paid homenage to her father and made him proud again.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    a difficult topic from a sincere perspective

    Death is a really difficult topic to talk about, especially from the perspective of a kid. The author does it beautifully, and this book may very well make you cry. The father is strong, loving, and rightly adored by Chela. When the worst happens, Chela doesn't know quite how to approach other kids about the seriousness of life, but she approaches the reader with a sincerity that is consummate. While many current titles out there play to stereotypes about Latino families, this book paints a very distinct picture, without sacrificing that certain something that will help those that grew up within the culture to still say, "That's so true!" Non-latinos who have only been exposed to main-stream mass market fiction, will hopefully get a new insight and perspective.It is admirable that Cinco Puntos Press puts out books that are truly good without relying on misguided ideas of "spice" and "color". Rather, they focus on really well written stories. This book has been out as a freebie at the BEA and ALA conferences, as a paperback. I recommend everyone definitely buy a copy of the hardback!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    Not Since the 5th Grade

    Great books, like great works of visual art, lie in the context of their creation and setting. We all bring in our preconceptions and bias, either consciously or subconsciously, and weigh in. The Smell of Old Lady Perfume asks us to check our prejudices at the door, and reaches for the common denominator within us, provoking empathetic laughter and dark sadness with each turn of the page. Indeed, by the time the book is complete, the reader has left behind childhood notions of the unpleasantness of old lady perfume. Claudia G. Martinez' debut novel forces us to grapple with no less than three universal themes: death, coming of age, and family. She does this in intelligent language that weaves together a series of chapters, each like individual petals pieced together to compose a flower. They illustrate complete panoramas of the complex and ever-changing life of sixth grader Chela Gonzalez, the book's protagonist, as she struggles to discover strength after tragedy. And, whether male or female, young or old, from the northeast or the southwest, the story draws you in with unexpected humor, sympathy, anticipation and delight. This is a phenomenal accomplishment for an unusually young author, the likes of which had not drawn this male reader to young adult since Judy Blume's Tales of Fourth Grade Nothing, Beverly Cleary's Ramona Quimby, or Thomas Rockwell's How to Eat Fried Worms.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2008

    Not since the 5th Grade

    Great books, like great works of visual art, lie in the context of their creation and setting. We all bring in our preconceptions and bias, either consciously or subconsciously, and weigh in. The Smell of Old Lady Perfume asks us to check our prejudices at the door, and reaches for the common denominator within us, provoking empathetic laughter and dark sadness with each turn of the page. Indeed, by the time the book is complete, the reader has left behind childhood notions of the unpleasantness of old lady perfume. Claudia G. Martinez¿ debut novel forces us to grapple with no less than three universal themes: death, coming of age, and family. She does this in intelligent language that weaves together a series of chapters, each like individual petals pieced together to compose a flower. They illustrate complete panoramas of the complex and ever-changing life of sixth grader Chela Gonzalez, the book¿s protagonist, as she struggles to discover strength after the death of her father. And, whether male or female, young or old, from the northeast or the southwest, the story draws you in with unexpected humor, sympathy, anticipation and delight. This is a phenomenal accomplishment for an unusually young author, the likes of which had not drawn this male reader to young adult since Judy Blume¿s Tales of Fourth Grade Nothing, Beverly Cleary¿s Ramona Quimby, or Thomas Rockwell¿s How to Eat Fried Worms.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2008

    A reviewer

    Death is a really difficult topic to talk about, especially from the perspective of a kid. The author does it beautifully, and this book may very well make you cry. The father is strong, loving, and rightly adored by Chela. When the worst happens, Chela doesn¿t know quite how to approach other kids about the seriousness of life, but she approaches the reader with a sincerity that is consummate. While many current titles out there play to stereotypes about Latino families, this book paints a very distinct picture, without sacrificing that certain something that will help those that grew up within the culture to still say, ¿That¿s so true!¿ Non-latinos who have only been exposed to main-stream mass market fiction, will hopefully get a new insight and perspective. It is admirable that Cinco Puntos Press puts out books that are truly good without relying on misguided ideas of ¿spice¿ and ¿color¿. Rather, they focus on really well written stories. This book has been out as a freebie at the BEA and ALA conferences, as a paperback. The final hardback will be out July 1st and everyone should definitely pick up a copy!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 5, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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