AGERANGE: Ages 12 up.
If you asked her, Emily Goldberg would say she is a Jewish girl from the New York suburbs. So why is she suddenly in Puerto Rico for the funeral of a grandmother she never met? Emily never really questioned why she never met any of her mother's family--that was just how her life went. But now that they are in Puerto Rico, her mother is acting differently, taking up smoking again and being distant and strange. The day they are supposed to leave the island, Emily's father breaks the news to her: Emily's mother needs to stay in Puerto Rico longer. And Emily is to stay with her. For six weeks. They move into her Aunt Rosa's house and stay in her cousin Lucy's bedroom. Lucy has moved down the hall with her three younger sisters. The weeks pass slowly and Emily cannot seem to connect with Lucy. But a possible family crisis causes the two to bond in a way neither would have thought, and Emily begins to learn that just because she never knew this part of her family does not mean she cannot love them now. This is a charming story of family, cultures, and learning who you really are. Emily is a likable character with a snappy inner dialogue. Readers will leave this book with not only a better sense of who she is, but hopefully of who they could be as well. Reviewer: Kathleen Foucart
Emily Goldberg is ready for a fun summer that includes a road trip with two girlfriends before they go to college in the fall. But when Emily's Puerto Rican grandmother whom she never knew dies, the family must go to the island for the funeral. Emily's father is Jewish, and her mother, a college professor, has never discussed her past. After the funeral, Emily's mother decides to remain on the island for a while, and Emily stays too, moving in with Emily's aunt and family. Emily's cousin Lucy does not warm to the nuyorican, but Lucy's friend Ricky is interested in Emily, who is still in a semi-relationship with a boyfriend back home. As the summer passes, Emily learns about her mother's background, about life in Puerto Rican society, and about the family that has not been a part of her life heretofore. When Lucy breaks up with her long-time boyfriend and is afraid that she may be pregnant, Emily's mother helps out. Emily gains an understanding of what her mother gave up when she left her family to attend college on the mainland. Emily makes friends with Lucy, starts a romantic relationship with Ricky, and chooses to stay on the island for the rest of the summer. The contemporary situations, characters, and setting are realistic in this readable story of a teen girl who learns about the other part of her heritage. Issues of mixed ethnicity are interwoven but do not overwhelm the story.
Since Ostow is half-Jewish, half-Puerto Rican, just like Emily Goldberg in this novel, we can surmise she understands this cultural mix well. Emily's Puerto Rican mother is a Ph.D. academic and feminist--she left to go to college in the US and never returned to Puerto Rico or took her family there, making her life in New York with her Jewish husband and their two children. When Emily's grandmother dies, the family travels to Puerto Rico for the funeral. Emily's mother goes into a strange stage of grief, and everyone decides she should stay with her sisters and their families in San Juan, and Emily should remain with her as support. The story is told from Emily's point of view, in her voice. Emily just graduated from high school, and in this summer before leaving for Brown University, she had planned a road trip with two girlfriends. Instead, she is in a household with her Puerto Rican relatives where she feels like an outsider. Her cousin Lucy takes a dislike to her; she is resentful and rude. As the weeks go by, everyone slowly changes, which is the stuff of this story. Emily learns better how to make connections with people; Lucy has a crisis of her own and appreciates the support of Emily and her mother. Secrets from the past are revealed and we understand the tension between the traditional culture of Puerto Rico and the freedom for personal expression available in American culture--especially for women. Emily's mother left tradition to become a feminist scholar, after all: Emily, Lucy and we the readers understand her better by the end of the story. Middle-class teenagers in San Juan who are smart, talented and ambitious--where have we read about them before? I don't think I everhave heard their stories, so I am happy to read about them in this novel. They are the most interesting characters even though it is Emily telling the story. KLIATT Codes: JS--Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2006, Penguin, Razorbill, 200p., $16.99.. Ages 12 to 18.
After the death of the grandmother she has never met, Emily, a Jewish teen from a New York City suburb, spends a life-changing summer in Puerto Rico. Her mother left her homeland to attend college in New York and stayed on to earn a doctorate, marry, and, seemingly, never look back. Now, the girl must sacrifice a precollege road trip and final weeks with her boyfriend to stay in Puerto Rico while her grieving parent reconnects with her past. At first, relations are strained between Emily and her relatives; though polite and tactful, she's shy and sometimes mistaken for "stuck-up," particularly by her cousin Lucy, who treats her like a spoiled, privileged brat. As her mother comes to grips with her estranged sisters and her loss, Emily learns the truth about their severed ties as well as about life in the real Puerto Rico-not the one in "getaway brochures." When Lucy suspects that she is pregnant, only her New York family can help; old-fashioned attitudes and limited options for women are part of her decision to leave the island, just as her aunt did so many years before. Emily's honest, thoughtful narrative tells this engaging story of family and culture drawn from the author's own experience.
Barbara AuerbachCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Growing up in an affluent New York suburb, Emily Goldberg didn't mind not knowing about her mother's Puerto Rican childhood, but when her family travels to Puerto Rico for her grandmother's funeral, Emily's ignorance is compounded as she is bombarded by unfamiliar relatives, foreign customs and a language she can barely decipher. Despite being overwhelmed and longing for her routine New York life, Emily agrees to spend her summer in Puerto Rico helping her mother revisit her roots. As Emily slowly adjusts to the hectic routine of her stern Aunt Rosa's traditional household, she reexamines her sheltered life and recognizes her own need to connect with her heritage before heading to college. As a primarily reactive character, Emily's narrative is slightly flat, except for her rocky interactions with her moody cousin, Lucy, which provide short bursts of energy and propel Emily into becoming more proactive. Despite Emily and Lucy being well-defined, Ostow pays little attention to other characters, who fade into the well-drawn Puerto Rican setting. (Fiction. YA)