A Tale of Spirit in Ruth Behar’s Lucky Broken Girl

10-year-old Ruthie Mizrahi has only lived in the United States for 8 months. Along with Mami, Papi, and her little brother Izzie, she fled Cuba where, during the 1960s, Castro’s hand lay heavy on all who lived there. Papi says that they’re lucky to come to America, the land of opportunity. Mami still longs for the comforts of home; the people and culture she knew. Izzie is full of boundless energy and blissful ignorance. As for Ruthie, she’s adapting. At school, there’s Ramu, another immigrant child who is in the “dumb class” with Ruthie. Ramu and his little brother, Avik, live in the same Queens apartment building as Ruthie, but they’re not allowed to play outside with the other neighborhood kids.  At home, there’s Danielle, whose family is from Belgium. Danielle is always dressed perfectly, uses phrases like tres bien and magnifique, and owns the most beautiful pair of black go-go boots that Ruthie has ever seen. But even with friends like Danielle and Ramu, Ruthie longs to fit in. She wishes to be in the smart class, with the other kids. She wishes Mami weren’t so sad, and that Papi wouldn’t lose his temper. And she really, really wishes she had a pair of go-go boots.

And then comes the glorious Friday when everything seems to click into place. Ruthie’s teacher determines that on Monday, she and Ramu can join the regular fifth grade class. Better yet, Papi arrives home with a surprise for Ruthie—a brand new pair of go-go boots. But that’s not where the surprises end. The following day, Papi pulls up to the apartment in a blue Oldsmobile. Finally, he says, they are in the land of opportunity.  A land where poco a poco, little by little, all their dreams will come true, starting with go-go boots and an Oldsmobile.  But dreams are fragile things, and easily shattered. In a single moment, Ruthie’s life is changed when a horrible accident leaves her leg crushed, and Ruthie bedridden in a full body cast. No smart class. No trading lunches with Ramu. No hopscotch with Danielle. And definitely no go-go boots. Nope, for Ruthie, the future holds hours of staring at the ceiling, loneliness, and a bedpan.

In Lucky Broken Girl, what starts as an immigrant story expands into a coming-of-age tale as months upon months of bedrest force Ruthie to take a close look at herself and the world around her. Mami struggles with the guilt and exhaustion that comes with being a full-time caretaker. Papi worries that filing criminal charges may result in his family being sent back to Cuba. Danielle isn’t sure how to interact with her bedridden friend. And Ramu is not allowed to visit the apartment. From her bedroom prison, Ruthie cycles through anger, pity, guilt, frustration, loneliness and embarrassment. It’s not until a new neighbor, an artist, teaches Ruthie how to paint that she discovers a way to express her feelings through art. As Ruthie heals, both physically and emotionally, she comes to accept both her luck and her brokenness, until the time comes that a new challenge arises:

What happens when Ruthie is no longer broken? Who will she be?

Based on author Ruth Behar’s real childhood experiences, Lucky Broken Girl explores the vulnerability of life, the way small decisions can create large ripples, and the raw emotions of those struggling to adapt to change.

Lucky Broken Girl is on B&N bookshelves now.

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