The Hummingbird's Daughter

The Hummingbird's Daughter

by Luis Alberto Urrea
4.2 46


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The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea

Discover an epic historical novel of a young saint escaping death from Pulitzer Prize finalist Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The House of Broken Angels.

The prizewinning writer Luis Alberto Urrea's long-awaited novel is an epic mystical drama of a young woman's sudden sainthood in late 19th-century Mexico. It is 1889, and civil war is brewing in Mexico. A 16-year-old girl, Teresita, the illegitimate but beloved daughter of the wealthy and powerful rancher Don Tomas Urrea, wakes from the strangest dream-a dream that she has died. Only it was not a dream. This passionate and rebellious young woman has arisen from death with a power to heal-but it will take all her faith to endure the trials that await her and her family now that she has become the Saint of Cabora. The Hummingbird's Daughter is a vast, hugely satisfying novel of love and loss, joy and pain.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316154529
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 04/03/2006
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 528
Sales rank: 48,120
Product dimensions: 5.54(w) x 8.02(h) x 1.43(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Hummingbird's Daughter

By Luis Alberto Urrea

Little, Brown

Copyright © 2005 Luis Alberto Urrea
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-316-74546-4

Chapter One

ON THE COOL OCTOBER MORNING when Cayetana Chavez brought her baby to light, it was the start of that season in Sinaloa when the humid torments of summer finally gave way to breezes and falling leaves, and small red birds skittered through the corrals, and the dogs grew new coats.

On the big Santana rancho, the People had never seen paved streets, streetlamps, a trolley, or a ship. Steps were an innovation that seemed an occult work, stairways were the wicked cousins of ladders, and greatly to be avoided. Even the streets of Ocoroni, trod on certain Sundays when the People formed a long parade and left the safety of the hacienda to attend Mass, were dirt, or cobbled, not paved. The People thought all great cities had pigs in the streets and great muddy rivers of mule piss attracting hysterical swarms of wasps, and that all places were built of dirt and straw. They called little Cayetana the Hummingbird, using the mother tongue to say it: Semalu.

On that October day, the fifteenth, the People had already begun readying for the Day of the Dead, only two weeks away. They were starting to prepare plates of the dead's favorite snacks: deceased uncles, already half-forgotten, still got their favorite green tamales, which, due to the heat and the flies, would soon turn even greener. Small glasses held the dead's preferred brands of tequila, or rum, or rompope: Tio Pancho liked beer, so a clay flagon of watery Guaymas brew fizzled itself flat before his graven image on a family altar. The ranch workers set aside candied sweet potatoes, cactus and guayaba sweets, mango jam, goat jerky, dribbly white cheeses, all food they themselves would like to eat, but they knew the restless spirits were famished, and no family could afford to assuage its own hunger and insult the dead. Jesus! Everybody knew that being dead could put you in a terrible mood.

The People were already setting out the dead's favorite corn-husk cigarettes, and if they could not afford tobacco, they filled the cigarros with machuche, which would burn just as well and only make the smokers cough a little. Grandmother's thimble, Grandfather's old bullets, pictures of Father and Mother, a baby's umbilical cord in a crocheted pouch. They saved up their centavos to buy loaves of ghost bread and sugar skulls with blue icing on their foreheads spelling out the names of the dead they wished to honor, though they could not read the skulls, and the confectioners often couldn't read them either, an alphabet falling downstairs. Tomas Urrea, the master of the rancho, along with his hired cowboys, thought it was funny to note the grammatical atrocities committed by the candy skulls: Martia, Jorse, Octablio. The vaqueros laughed wickedly, though most of them couldn't read, either. Still, they were not about to lead Don Tomas to think they were brutos, or worse-pendejos.

"A poem!" Tomas announced.

"Oh no," said his best friend, Don Lauro Aguirre, the great Engineer, on one of his regular visits.

"There was a young man from Guamuchil," Tomas recited, "whose name was Pinche Inutil!"

"And?" said Don Lauro.

"I haven't worked it out yet."

Tomas rode his wicked black stallion through the frosting of starlight that turned his ranch blue and pale gray, as if powdered sugar had blown off the sky and sifted over the mangos and mesquites. Most of the citizens of Sinaloa had never wandered more than 100 miles; he had traveled more than anyone else, 107 miles, an epic journey undertaken five days before, when he and his foreman, Segundo, had led a squad of armed outriders to Los Mochis, then to the Sea of Cortes beyond. All to collect Don Lauro Aguirre, arriving by ship from far Mazatlan, and with him, a shipment of goods for the ranch, which they contracted for safe delivery in a Conducta wagon train accompanied by cavalry.

In Los Mochis, Tomas had seen the legendary object called "the sea."

"More green than blue," he'd noted to his companions, already an expert on first sight. "The poets are wrong."

"Pinches poets," said Segundo, hating all versifiers and psalmists.

They had gone on to greet the Engineer at the docks. He fairly danced off the boat, so charged with delight was he to be once again in the rustic arms of his bon ami tres enchante! Under his arm, carefully wrapped in oilcloth, Aguirre clutched a leather-bound copy of Maxwell's Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism. In Aguirre's opinion, the Scotsman had written a classic! Don Lauro had a nagging suspicion that electricity, this occult force, and magnetism, certainly a force of spirit, could be used to locate, and even affect, the human soul. In his pocket, a greater wonder was hidden: a package of Adams's Black Jack chewing gum-the indescribable flavor of licorice! Wait until Tomas tasted that!

The ship looked to Segundo like a fat bird with gray wings floating on the water after eating some fish. He was delighted with himself and pointed to the boat and told one of the buckaroos, "Fat bird. Ate some fish. Floating around." He lit a little cigar and grinned, his gums and teeth clotted with shreds of tobacco.

Segundo had the face of an Aztec carving. He had Chinese eyes, and a sloping Mayan forehead. His nose was a great curving blade that hung down over his drooping bandido mustache. He thought he was handsome. But then, Aguirre also thought himself handsome, though he seemed to have inherited the penchant for fat cheeks that was supposed to be the curse of the Urrea clan. He tried to remember to suck in his cheeks, especially when he was being compared to his friend Tomas Urrea. Where had Tomas's cheeks gone? In bright light, you could see his cheekbones casting shadows as if he were some Indian warrior. And those eyes! Urrea had a ferocious gleam in his eyes-a glare. Men found it unnerving, but women were apparently mesmerized. They were the only green eyes Aguirre had ever beheld.

"You have much work to do, you lazy bastard," said Tomas.

The Urrea clan paid Aguirre handsomely to exercise his education for them in elaborate hydrological and construction plans. He had designed a network of vents to carry odors from the house's revolutionary indoor toilet. He had even astounded them all by designing a system of pipes that carried water uphill.

With liquid on the mind, it was not long before they found the notorious El Farolito cantina. There, they ate raw shellfish still gasping under tides of lime juice and hot sauce and great crystals of salt that cracked between the teeth of the men. Naked women writhed to a tuba-and-drum combo. The men regarded this display with joy, though Aguirre made the effort to feel guilty about it. Lieutenant Emilio Enriquez, in charge of the Conducta wagon train, joined them at the table.

"Teniente!" Tomas shouted. "What do you hear?"

"Gentlemen," said Enriquez, arranging his sword so he could sit. "Unrest in Mexico City."

Aguirre had to admit to himself that this soldier, though an enforcer of the oppressors, was a dashing figure in his medallions and the bright brass fittings on his tunic.

"What troubles are these, sir?" he said, always ready to hear the government was being overthrown.

Enriquez twirled the ends of his upswept bigote and nodded to the barkeep, who landed a foaming beer before him.

"Protesters," he sighed, "have dug up Santa Anna's leg again."

Everybody burst out laughing.

The old dictator's leg had once been blown off by a cannonball and buried with full military honors in the capital.

"Every year, somebody digs it up and kicks it around," Enriquez said.

Tomas raised his glass of beer.

"To Mexico," he said.

"To Santa Anna's leg!" Lieutenant Enriquez announced.

They all raised their glasses.

"The Canadians," Enriquez said, as he poured himself a fresh glass of beer, "have launched a mounted police force. They control their Indians."

"And bandits?" Tomas interjected.

Tomas Urrea's own father had been waylaid by bandits on the road to Palo Cagado. The bandits, a scruffy lot said to have dropped out of the Durango hills, had been after silver. Tomas's father, Don Juan Francisco, was well known for carrying casks of coin to cover the wages of the three hundred workers on his brother's great million-acre hacienda south of Culiacan. When the outlaws discovered no silver, they stood Don Juan Francisco against an alamo tree and executed him with a volley of ninety-seven bullets. Tomas had been nine at the time. Yet his subsequent hatred of bandidos, as he grew up on the vast ranch, was so intense it transformed into a lifelong fascination. Some even said Tomas now wished he were a bandido.

"It goes without saying, caballeros. Bandits!" said Enriquez. "Besides, we have already started the rural police program here in Mexico to accost our own outlaws."

"Gringos! They have copied us again," Tomas announced.

"Los Rurales," Enriquez continued. "The rural mounted police force."

"To the Rurales," Tomas said.

They raised their glasses.

"To the bandits," said Segundo.

"And the Apaches," Enriquez said, "who keep me employed."

They drank the hot brew and pissed out the back door and tossed coins to the women to keep them dancing. Tomas suddenly grabbed a guitar and launched into a ballad about a boy who loved his schoolteacher but was too shy to tell her. Instead, he wrote her a love note every day and tucked it in a tree. One day, while he was placing his latest testimonial in the tree, it was hit by lightning, and not only did this poor boy die, but the tree with its enclosed epistles of love burned to the ground. The teacher ran to the tree in time to behold this disaster. The ballad ended with the melancholy schoolteacher, lonely and unloved, brushing the ashes of the boy's unread notes from her hair before turning out her lamp and sleeping alone for yet another night. The naked dancers covered themselves and wept.

Early the next morning, the men left the thunderously hungover barkeep and dancers behind and began their long ride inland, to where the hills started to rise and the iguanas were longer than the rattlesnakes. They began to forget the color of the sea.

Cayetana greeted that dawn with a concoction made with coffee beans and burned corn kernels. As the light poured out of the eastern sea and splashed into windows from coast to coast, Mexicans rose and went to their million kitchens and cooking fires to pour their first rations of coffee. A tidal wave of coffee rushed west across the land, rising and falling from kitchen to fire ring to cave to ramada. Some drank coffee from thick glasses. Some sipped it from colorful gourds, rough clay pots that dissolved as they drank, cones of banana leaf. Cafe negro. Cafe with canela. Cafe with goat's milk. Cafe with a golden-brown cone of piloncillo melting in it like a pyramid engulfed by a black flood. Tropical cafe with a dollop of sugarcane rum coiling in it like a hot snake. Bitter mountaintop cafe that thickened the blood. In Sinaloa, cafe with boiled milk, its burned milk skin floating on top in a pale membrane that looked like the flesh of a peeled blister. The heavy-eyed stared into the round mirrors of their cups and regarded their own dark reflections. And Cayetana Chavez, too, lifted a cup, her coffee reboiled from yesterday's grounds and grits, sweet with spoons of sugarcane syrup, and lightened by thin blue milk stolen with a few quick squeezes from one of the patron's cows.

On that long westward morning, all Mexicans still dreamed the same dream. They dreamed of being Mexican. There was no greater mystery.

Only rich men, soldiers, and a few Indians had wandered far enough from home to learn the terrible truth: Mexico was too big. It had too many colors. It was noisier than anyone could have imagined, and the voice of the Atlantic was different from the voice of the Pacific. One was shrill, worried, and demanding. The other was boisterous, easy to rile into a frenzy. The rich men, soldiers, and Indians were the few who knew that the east was a swoon of green, a thick-aired smell of ripe fruit and flowers and dead pigs and salt and sweat and mud, while the west was a riot of purple. Pyramids rose between llanos of dust and among turgid jungles. Snakes as long as country roads swam tame beside canoes. Volcanoes wore hats of snow. Cactus forests grew taller than trees. Shamans ate mushrooms and flew. In the south, some tribes still went nearly naked, their women wearing red flowers in their hair and blue skirts, and their breasts hanging free. Men outside the great Mexico City ate tacos made of live winged ants that flew away if the men did not chew quickly enough.

So what were they? Every Mexican was a diluted Indian, invaded by milk like the coffee in Cayetana's cup. Afraid, after the Conquest and the Inquisition, of their own brown wrappers, they colored their faces with powder, covered their skins in perfumes and European silks and American habits. Yet for all their beaver hats and their lace veils, the fine citizens of the great cities knew they had nothing that would ever match the ancient feathers of the quetzal. No cacique stood atop any temple clad in jaguar skins. Crinolines, waistcoats. Operas, High Mass, cafe au lait in demitasse cups in sidewalk patisseries. They attempted to choke the gods with New York pantaloons, Parisian petticoats. But still the banished spirits whispered from corners and basements. In Mexico City, the great and fallen Tenochtitlan, among streets and buildings constructed with the stones of the Pyramid of the Sun, gentlemen walked with their heads slightly tilted, cocked as if listening to this puzzling murmur of wraiths.

They still spoke a thousand languages-Spanish, too, to be sure, but also a thicket of songs and grammars. Mexico-the sound of wind in the ruins. Mexico-the waves rushing the shore. Mexico-the sand dunes, the snowfields, the steam of sleeping Popocatepetl. Mexico-across marijuana fields, tomato plants, avocado trees, the agave in the village of Tequila.


All around them, in the small woods, in the caves, in the precipitous canyons of copper country, in the swamps and at the crossroads, the harsh Old Ones gathered. Tlaloc, the rain god, lips parched because the Mexicans no longer tortured children to feed him sweet drafts of their tears. The Flayed One, Xipe Totec, shivering cold because priests no longer skinned sacrifices alive and danced in their flesh to bring forth the harvest. Tonantzin, goddess of Tepeyac, chased from her summit by the very Mother of God, the Virgen de Guadalupe. The awesome and ferocious warrior god, Hummingbird on the Left, Huitzilopochtli. Even the Mexicans' friend, Chac Mool, was lonely.


Excerpted from The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea Copyright © 2005 by Luis Alberto Urrea. 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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Hummingbird's Daughter 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 46 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Among the many outstanding qualities of Luis Urrea's magnificent novel, The Hummingbird's Daughter, is that the story is substantially true. It is based on the historical record of his great aunt Teresa Urrea. The dialog and the personalities have been reconstructed, but anyone who cares to research the matter as I have will learn that the incredible life of the Hummingbird's daughter, Teresita Urrea, is accurately depicted. Born out of wedlock to an illiterate Indian mother, she has no idea that her father is Don Tomás Urrea, rich landowner and freethinker in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. At about age six she is taken under the tutelage of an elderly Indian healer named Huila, whose name means ¿hummingbird¿ in the Indian language. From her Teresita learns the uses of healing plants and prayers and discovers an even greater gift: she actually has the power to heal by her touch. This causes problems. The ranch becomes crowded with thousands of pilgrims bearing the most pitiful ailments and afflictions, and the Mexican government, watchful to suppress any threats to its power, is suspicious of her growing fame. The shattering climax of the story calls that old cliché to mind: you can't make this stuff up. It wasn't! Unbelievable as it is, it happened. The Hummingbird's Daughter is the story of a girl coming to terms with her destiny, with the power of faith and miracles, and with a father's and daughter's discovery of what love is and the sacrifices it sometimes requires. The book is densely populated with cowboys, outlaws, wild Indians, men who drink too much, cantina beauties, mercy and cruelty, bravery and cowardice, and nature at its rawest. There are a fair number of Spanish words, untranslated, but these will not detract from the enjoyment of those who do not care to look them up. To add a historical note, the story is a wonderful snapshot of revolutionary Mexico along the American border. Finally, the prose style is marvelously poetic: easy to read, but magically evoking the character of Mexico in all its color and contradictions. The description of the various ways Mexicans prepare coffee as the sun dawns gradually across the country could be excerpted as a fine poem all by itself. I have read the book three times, and in its own way it has influenced my writing as much as Huckleberry Finn, with which it shares many qualities. I even bought a second copy to lend, so as not to risk my own, precious, annotated copy. I grew up in El Paso. Teresita lived there briefly, yet I had never heard of her. This is a shame: her story and this book deserve to be better known. Al Past is the author of the Distant Cousin series, reviewer for PODBRAM, and member of the Independent Authors Guild. He lives in south Texas. More about his books is at his DistantCousin dot net website.
maggisfarm More than 1 year ago
This intriguing story grew on me with each page. Almost dreamlike, it filled my imagination until I felt like I was living the tale. What a joyful experience to fill your head with the imagery, history and culture of this time and place in Mexico. I highly recommend The Hummingbird's Daughter, and I will continue to pass it on as a gift until everyone I know has read it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I checked this out from the library based on the reviews here. The basic story line is good, and I found myself interested in the characters. But the plot took so long to develop, it was an effort to stay committed. After halfway through the book, I realized I was skipping paragraphs just to try and get to some activity. Beautiful, well-written langauge - colors and images are fantastic! But the plot just moves a bit too slowly for me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite books of all time. I loaned out my first copy and it was never returned, so I'm buying a second. Highly recommended for writing style and use of subtle humor.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. My mom loved it, and gave it to me to read for a school report. It was difficult yet intriguing in the first few chapters, but once i got the rhythm of the writing and language, it was a magical and interesting tale. I couldn't put the book down. The characters were described so well, that even when I wasn't reading the book, I was thinking of the details and character of each person I had pictured while reading the novel. It was like I was actually there.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In the harsh yet thriving landscape of Mexico, circa 1880, the poor, illiterate and unmarried Yaqui woman (known by her tribe as The Hummingbird), gave birth to Teresita with the help of the town's healer, the curandera called Huila. Huila-one of Urrea's most remarkable creations-is as cantankerous as she is powerful. So powerful in fact that she lives in a room behind the kitchen of the great hacienda owned by the wealthy Don Tomás Urrea. Don Tomás does not care much for religion but he knows that Huila is an asset and puts up with her magic as much as Huila puts up with her patrón's habit of spreading his seed despite having a beautiful, attentive wife and several children who populate the hacienda. Teresita eventually-and literally-wanders into Don Tomás's life and is subsequently taken under Huila's wing. Huila notices two things about this unusual girl: she resembles the Urrea family and she possesses the power to heal. Don Tomás ultimately owns up to paternity and is determined to make a lady out of this barefooted urchin. But as Teresita matures, her powers grow until all know that she is the curandera women should go to when they are about to give birth or when a child becomes ill. Then one day, when Teresita goes out to the fields, she is raped, beaten and eventually dies. But on the third day, at the end of burial preparations, in the midst of five mourning women, Teresita awakes. The town is abuzz with news of this miracle. With her resurrection comes greater healing powers and, of course, fame. The Yaquis, as well as other native tribes, mestizos, and even Americans, make pilgrimages to the Urrea hacienda. The Catholic Church views this 'saint' as a heretic, the vicious and corrupt government of Porfirio Díaz considers the girl a threat, and revolutionaries want to insinuate themselves into her sphere of influence for their own political cause. The climax brilliantly mirrors the immigrant's experience of seeking safe passage to a foreign land while relying on loved ones as well as fate. Urrea, who is the award-winning author of ten books-fiction, non-fiction and poetry-tells us in an author's note that Teresa Urrea 'was a real person'-his aunt. The Hummingbird's Daughter is his fictionalization of family lore based on twenty years of intense research and interviews. The result resonates with such passion and beauty that it doesn't matter whether Teresita's legend is based more on a people's wishful thinking than truth. The Hummingbird's Daughter is a sumptuous, dazzling novel to which no review can do justice; one simply must read it. [The full review first appeared in The Elegant Variation.]
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am only 1/3 of the way through and I am not inspired to keep reading. I go back to the book when I have nothing else to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a great story, beautifully written.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very interesting story, especially since it is about real people! I got a little bogged down in the beginning, but the slow start is necessary for the development of the story.
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Anita67 More than 1 year ago
Took me back to those times, I could almost taste the dust of the journey, the differences between Mexico and the US so market even then great read
Suvorov More than 1 year ago
The Hummingbird's Daughter covers the life of one family, that of Tomás Urrea. While Tomás surely fathers many illegitimate children, Teresita becomes the most famous, being called Saint Teresita, the Saint of Cabora. Hummingbird tells the story of how Teresita is born, comes to be recognized by her father, learns at the side of the curandera Huila and turns into the Saint of Cabora. I've seen reviews that compare Hummingbird to Gabriel Garcia Marquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude. I understand the sentiment, but there are so many major differences that I believe Urrea's novel is a completely different animal. First, Hummingbird covers only one generation while One Hundred Years covers five. Hummingbird is a traditional novel with the traditional punctuation, especially for dialogue. Finally, while Hummingbird is told from different viewpoints, the story is linear; One Hundred Years is not always linear. This obviously just scratches the surface because One Hundred Years could be discussed at quite some length. Suffice it to say, while I may have had some One Hundred Years expectations when I began Hummingbird, they were quickly dispelled, which is not a bad thing. The writing is beautiful. There are many sections I marked and later typed at the bottom of my personal review so I could refer to them later. The funniest quotes and stories come from Huila, who, in my opinion, is the best character in the book by far- "She felt in her apron pockets for her medicine pouch. Everybody knew it was made of leather- man leather, they said, gathered from a rapist's ball sack. The rumor was that she had collected it herself back in her village of El J¿pare. When one of the pendejos working around her or her girls started to give her grief, she'd pull the awful little warty-looking blackened bag out of her apron pocket and toss it and catch it, toss and catch it, until the man quieted down and started watching. Then she'd say, "Did you have something you wanted to say to me?"" In addition, Urrea has the ability to make you care about characters you have only known for a short while. When Teresita recognizes a severed head bobbing in a bottle of liquid, my heart sank; I am not even sure why. It is one of those moments that stays with you; you may think of it days or weeks later and not know why it continues to haunt you. The vocabulary is sometimes difficult. I read a lot and one of the side effects is that I have a large vocabulary. In spite of that, I had to look words up frequently because they referred to things that are cultural or time specific. Usually, the reader is able to figure out the meaning with the help of context, but there were many instances that context did not help at all, and I am Mexican. There is also a little Spanish and it is not always translated, but even if you don't look it up, you get the gist of what is being said. While the book is about a supposed saint and the miracles she is said to have performed, the book is not all pretty flowers. Tomás is far from faithful to his wife; in fact, everybody knows about it, including his wife, who basically turns her head unless directly confronted. It is a brutal time period and setting and things are not always settled in a peaceful manner. Children are mistreated. And the list goes on. Hummingbird does not dwell on these subjects, but they are present. I am sure some may avoid the book because the topic of sainthood may imply long sermons. I assure you, they are not there. In fact, the discussions about religion are intelligent and interesting. Tomás is debatably an atheist; he and Teresita love to debate and have discussions- "Yes, yes," he said. "I know who the Holy Mother is." "But, of course, you don't believe." He spread his palms at her. "Read history, my dear. That hill where she appeared, Tepeyac. Aztecs had been 'seeing' their own goddess there for years. Tonántzin, wasn't it? A virgin? The priests just laid one fairy tale over another, and they used the same spot for the same kind of fairy." She squinted at him. "The world of reason must be a lonely place," she said. "Father," she said, leaning forward, "do you not think the Mother of God is older than the Aztecs? Do you not think that, if she were to appear right here, right now, the People would think her a Yaqui or a mestiza? That the Aztecs could only understand her as an Aztec figure? How would they know anything other than Aztec religion?" "Touché," he said. This was a good book. I laughed and cried. I purchased my own hardback copy. That in itself should tell you all you need to know about what I think of The Hummingbird's Daughter.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this book absolutely delightful. I'm not surprised that Urrea is also a poet. His writing is so lyrical and imaginative. My only complaint with the book was the ending. We only find out what happened to Teresita and Tomas, but we don't how the other major characters fared.
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