The Tequila Worm

The Tequila Worm

4.0 29
by Viola Canales
     
 

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Sofia grows up in the close-knit community of the barrio in McAllen, Texas, then finds that her experiences as a scholarship student at boarding school in Austin only strengthens her ties to family and her "comadres." Pura Belpr Award Winner 2006.See more details below

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Overview

Sofia grows up in the close-knit community of the barrio in McAllen, Texas, then finds that her experiences as a scholarship student at boarding school in Austin only strengthens her ties to family and her "comadres." Pura Belpr Award Winner 2006.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This tender first novel suffers somewhat from an awkward structure. Narrator Sofia, whose life story hews closely to the author's own Texas barrio-to-Harvard Law trajectory, begins by relating quotidian childhood experiences as vignettes. Three successive chapters go from first communion to dyeing Easter cascarones to trick-or-treating. A quarter of the way into the novel, she is suddenly 14 and has been offered a scholarship to a boarding school in Austin, Tex., 350 miles from her home in McAllen. The loosely connected anecdotes then shift to a conventional narrative thread about convincing her parents to let her attend. What will keep readers enthralled are the details of Sofia's home life-from the sobremesa, a "sacred time" after dinner in which the family reconnects through conversation, to the worm of the title, a critter soaked in mescal that acts as a "cure for homesickness" when eaten. Readers may well feel unprepared for both a death at novel's end and Sofia's out-of-the-blue neighborhood activism-but the characters are real and engaging, the vignettes funny and enlightening, and Sofia's lack of cynicism is refreshing. Ages 12-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Through a series of vignettes, Sofia's story comes to life—a life in the barrio in McAllen, Texas. We learn about the celebrations and traditions of her family: preparing for her First Communion, making Easter cascarones, celebrating el Dia de los Muertos, getting ready for her cousin's quincianera, and all the preparations for Christmas, among others. When Sofia is chosen to receive a scholarship to a prestigious Episcopal boarding school in Austin, three-hundred-fifty miles away, she is torn between wanting to obtain the best education possible and wanting to remain with her beloved family. Violeta Canale's debut novel is storytelling at its best. Her warm and vivid characters remain long after the story ends. 2005, Random House, Ages 10 to 14.
—Maria E. Gentle
VOYA
Sofia, a Mexican American girl in Southern Texas, is raised in a world of stories, where one of the three wise men rides a ceramic elephant with a pink saddle and the world will end "when a nun-and I mean any nun-dies." She lives in the gap between two cultures, with a Mexican family seemingly from another planet and an American school where she does not want to be a "Taco Head." Sofia is a bright young woman, though, and is offered a scholarship to attend a prestigious boarding school far from home. Her family does not understand her desire to see the world beyond the barrio, but they let her leave with a promise to become a good comadre, "someone who makes people into a family." Moving to a white world of wealth and privilege, Sophia discovers that her family's stories and traditions have taught her about life and that nothing cures homesickness better than a tequila worm. Canales shows snapshots in the life of her protagonist from childhood squabbles to her return to the barrio as an adult. It combines wonderfully absurd humorous moments with serious issues like discrimination, family separation, and the death of a parent. Touching on elements of mysticism but never allowing conventions or symbols to detract from her characters, Canales creates a delightfully stirring first novel. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2005, Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, 199p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Angela Semifero
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Sofia, 14, lives in McAllen, TX. What she lacks in material possessions, she makes up for in personality and intelligence. When she is called a "taco head" by a student at her school, she decides to "kick that girl" by getting better grades and being a better soccer player than her tormentor. As a result of this determination, Sofia is offered a scholarship to the elite Saint Luke's school in Austin. Now she must convince her family and herself that she is up to the challenge. Canales includes vivid descriptions of life in a Mexican-American community. Her prose is engaging and easy to read, making this novel a good choice for reluctant readers. The momentum slows a bit after Sofia's arrival in Austin in contrast to the portion of the book set in McAllen. Still, the story is a good addition to most collections.-Melissa Christy Buron, Epps Island Elementary, Houston, TX Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Sofia, growing up in an urban Latino neighborhood in McAllen, Texas, has a chance to attend an expensive boarding school in Austin on scholarship. Like her father, Sofia lives the life of the mind, rich with story and possibility. How can she convince her mother to let her take this opportunity? By learning to dance and showing her that she can leave home and still learn to become a good comadre. Canales, the author of the story collection Orange Candy Slices and Other Secret Tales (2001), is a graduate of Harvard Law School, suggesting that Sofia's story at least closely parallels her own. She is an accomplished storyteller, though not yet, perhaps, a successful novelist. The episodic narrative has disconcerting leaps in time at the beginning, and a sense of completion, or a moral displayed, at several points throughout-all lacking the tension to carry the reader forward. This said, the characters and setting are so real to life that readers who connect with Sofia at the start will find many riches here, from a perspective that is still hard to find in youth literature. (Fiction. 10-14)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780756972752
Publisher:
Random House Childrens Books
Publication date:
09/01/2007
Pages:
199
Sales rank:
1,483,884
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
11 - 15 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Tequila Worm


By Viola Canales

Random House

Viola Canales
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0385746741


Chapter One

The
Storyteller's
Bag


In the evenings when the cool breeze began to blow, all the families came out to their porches to sit and talk, to laugh and gossip. And that is where and how our barrio became one family.

Dona Clara visited every summer and no one missed her stories, for she came carrying a bag filled with secret things that conjured up the most amazing tales.

Clara had a square face on top of a big round body, and the biggest eyes and the widest mouth: she was especially proud of her catfish mouth, which she painted scarlet. She wore a big black onyx tongue around her neck. "This," she said, "is the symbol of a storyteller. It has been handed down from generation to generation, for hundreds of years."

When asked where she'd come from, she'd roll her eyes, pitch her arms up to the night sky, and point to the stars with her long scarlet fingernails. So the other kids and I believed she'd just flown down from a star.

Then she'd shake her many wooden bracelets and thrust her hand into her mysterious bag. She rattled her things around as we stared, bug-eyed.

Clara sucked her front teeth, batted her eyes, and then slowly started lifting something out of her bag. You could hear your blood go thump! thump! thump!

Once, she pulled out a three-inch lock of hair. "This belonged to Mama Maria, your great-great-grandmother." 

As the lock of dark hair made its way from hand to hand, person to person, Clara said, "Your Mama Maria was a mule. Always kicking her way through things. A force to behold! But beautiful, with the darkest eyes and long, wild Apache hair. This hair.

"And you, Sofia"-Clara pointed at me-"not only look like her, but have inherited her gift for mule-kicking." I gasped. My cousin Berta laughed. 

Papa was sitting beside me on top of an upside-down pail. "Mi'ja, don't look so worried. This is a good thing-for things to kick will come your way in many shapes and sizes. You'll see."

Next Clara pulled out a jar full of big mule teeth with a piece of a blue balloon inside. "I always show the hair and teeth and blue balloon together," she said, "for the teeth belonged to Papa Carlos, your great-great-grandfather, Mama Maria's husband, and he gave this blue balloon to her when they met and fell in love in a little Mexican plaza far away. The town plaza, in those days, was where people gathered to tell their tales."

Oh no! I thought. Please don't say I inherited those teeth, too!
But Clara pointed at Berta, who bit her lip and covered her big mouth with her hand. Now I laughed.

"Hija, the big teeth are a good gift too," said Berta's mother, T'a Belia, "if you learn to use them right."

And as the jar of teeth made its way around, Clara told us, "Look closely at them, for they once bit a rattlesnake in half, chewed a mountain of tobacco, and helped yell out the longest string of insults imaginable.

"Yes, kicking and biting like mules runs deep in our blood. Never forget that, for it might come in handy someday."

The things Clara pulled out of her bag included chipped saints, wacky handmade dolls, arrowheads, recipes, cracked old photos of stiff people, and pictures of dead children, who looked beautiful and peacefully asleep.

Clara always stayed a couple of days and then disappeared. "I have to go visit other families, other barrios, for it's important that they also hear these stories."

But before leaving she'd reach into her bag one last time to pull out a tiny bottle of mescal. She'd take a hairpin and fish out the tequila worm swimming inside. "This will cure my homesickness as I travel to my next family," Clara would say, popping the tequila worm into her mouth and chewing. She swallowed loudly as we stared. I was amazed. Sick, too. "Now, is there some story you want me to tell as I continue on my journey?"

I'd shake my head. There was nothing I'd want her to tell, at least nothing that could possibly compare with the stories that went with the big teeth, the lock of hair, and especially the tequila worm.
When I was about six, Clara came to visit as usual, but this time she was in a wheelchair. And when we gathered around her on the porch, we saw that her big mouth had collapsed into a thin line and her popping eyes gazed out at nothing.

Mama kissed Clara's trembling white hair and placed her story bag at the center of the porch. She reached inside and slowly pulled out her cupped hand. There was nothing in it. But Mama handed the invisible thing to me and said, "Here is the ceramic baby Jesus for the manger of the Christmas nacimiento your abuelita builds each year. It represents the vivid image Clara gave me of my great-grandmother Maria, who I never met, but who I feel close to through her story: about how she worked for weeks, making tamales and then going door to door selling them so she could buy a brand-new baby Jesus for her daughter, my mother, who was appointed the Christmas madrina, the godmother for baby Jesus that year." This image was passed around from hand to hand, person to person.

"Sofia, you're next!" Mama said. "Reach into the bag and see what secret is inside for you." I put my hand
in and felt all around. Empty. I pulled out my cupped hand and showed everyone. I hesitated, then turned to look at Clara. "This is the black onyx tongue that Clara still wears around her neck. I look at it and remember all the stories Clara has told us. Our stories."

"Yes," said Mama. "Clara is a perfect example of a good comadre."

"A good comadre?" I said.


Excerpted from The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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