Judith Ortiz Cofer opens for us a window of understanding into the riches of Puerto Rican culture. Her brave, gritty narrator, Consuelo . . . is the perfect tour guide through this compelling, deeply honest novel about the pain of family secrets.Pam Houston, author of Cowboys Are My Weakness
"A bittersweet tale of the price one pays to reinvent the story handed down by one's antepasados and familia. Consuelo is both herself and every mujer, and her story her own and that of her island, torn between self-discovery and safety."Julia Alvarez, author of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
"Funny and affecting, this rite of passage novel celebrates familia y cultura, and artful ways to escape them unscathed. Judith Ortiz Cofer is one of our most gifted authors."Latina
Judith Ortiz Cofer's light-hearted bildungsroman, The Meaning of Consuelo, casts an affectionate glance at a young woman's coming-of-age in Puerto Rico. Set in San Juan in the 1950s, the novel wrestles with the demons and household saints that accompany Consuelo Signe on her journey to maturity. It is a rite of passage played out against the background of a culturally undesirable change.
Puerto Rican novelist, essayist and poet Cofer (The Latin Deli, etc.) chronicles the childhood and young adulthood of Consuelo, a bookish girl growing up in a San Juan suburb in the 1950s. Cofer's novel is richly descriptive of the shifting mores of Puerto Rican culture and the historical particularities of the era (especially the growing American presence on the Caribbean island), but its deeper elements-Consuelo's growth into maturity; her sister's developing schizophrenia; and the demise of her parents' marriage-lack originality and are plagued by an overabundance of foreshadowing. Consuelo, her name signifying comfort and consolation, looks out for her younger sister, Mili, whose name derives from the word for miracle. The novel begins on a foreboding note: the local transvestite, Maria Sereno, interrupts a casual game of catch between the girls. They scamper into the house, scolded by their mother: "We do not associate in public with people like Maria Sereno." Life grows steadily gloomier for Consuelo: she botches her one high school romance; her beloved gay cousin, Patricio, moves to Nueva York; Mili starts acting strangely, singing to herself and speaking in tongues; and her father has an affair with a lounge singer at the hotel where he works. Cofer relies heavily on signposting, with lines like "It would be a while before we came to understand the true meaning of the word tragedia," which slow the narrative. Precise, near-sociological glimpses of island life in the 1950s-the introduction of mahones, or jeans; GI loans and new housing developments; the reassuring taste of sugar cane-add substance, but this is a plodding, overly deliberate effort. Agent, Liz Darhansoff. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Consuelo Signe is growing up in Puerto Rico during the fifties when Operation Bootstrap changed lives forever. The older daughter whose name means comfort and consolation, Consuelo takes seriously her role as guardian of her younger sister, Mili, whose full name Milagros means miracles. Their father is a proponent of all things American, whereas their mother loves the tropical wild Puerto Rico that is vanishing. As the girls mature, Consuelo continues to look after high-strung, impulsive Mili; witnesses her mother's attempts to deal with their father's affair; and observes the roles of men, women, and children in families of gente decente or decent people. She sees the scandal when her beloved cousin becomes an outsider because of his homosexuality and the hypocrisy of the women's treatment of a cross-dressing neighbor manicurist. After Mili's behavior becomes increasingly bizarre, she is diagnosed as schizophrenic. Consuelo loses her virginity on her fifteenth birthday, and the boy brags about his conquest at school. But Consuelo refuses to be humiliated, shows her strength as a woman, and gains the respect of her fellow students. It is decided that the family will move to New York in the hope of finding a better life, but on the eve of their departure, Mili drowns and her body is never found. Their mother returns to her parents' home, their father walks continually along the beaches searching for Mili, and Consuelo goes to meet her future in New York. Although not written specifically for younger readers, this coming-of-age story will expand readers' awareness of Puerto Rican history and culture and will provide an opportunity to view life from a young Latina's point of view. Themes ofloss, family, relationships, and culture mingle in this complex, engaging story, which mature teens will relate to and enjoy. VOYA Codes: 4Q 3P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult-marketed book recommended for Young Adults). 2003, Farrar Straus Giroux, 200p., Ages 15 to Adult.
A poet, essayist, and novelist (e.g., The Latin Deli), Ortiz Cofer here crafts a story at once grim and humorous. Consuelo lives with her family in 1950s San Juan, Puerto Rico, a time of expanding American influence. As her name suggests, bookish Consuelo is expected to offer consolation to others (younger sister Mili is always the center of attention). The older she gets, the more responsibility she must shoulder, first for her sister, tragically afflicted with schizophrenia, and then for her parents' shattered marriage. Her only solace is her best friend, gay cousin Patricio, who teaches her the value of imagination before escaping the confines of family for New York. Eventually, Consuelo follows, but the reader doesn't breathe a sigh of relief-there has been too much tragedy. Throughout, the beautiful language makes it clear that Ortiz Cofer is a poet; the descriptions of her native Puerto Rico are rich and layered. Unfortunately, the plot drags a bit, and Mili works less well as a character than Consuelo, whose growth is interesting to watch. The best parts are perhaps the lighter, more humorous details-e.g., the father's obsession with modern American inventions. Recommended for larger public libraries.-Mary Margaret Benson, Linfield Coll. Lib., McMinnville, OR Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
The young narrator and her native Puerto Rico go through major transitions, in this reflective second novel by Cofer (The Line of the Sun, 1989; stories: The Year of Our Revolution, 1998, etc.). The rules are very clear in the 1950s, Consuelo shows us as she describes a neighborhood transvestite who is good enough to come to the back door and do her mother's nails, but "in public we were to pretend we didn't know him." He's a fulano (outsider), and though our narrator is expected to live up to her name and be a consolation to her parents, quietly rebellious Consuelo fears her feelings might also place her outside the strict local order. Her father, maintenance engineer at a San Juan hotel, worships everything American and modern; her mother clings to island traditions. Her younger sister Mili (short for Milagros, "miracle") is cheerful and light where Consuelo is serious and dark, but Mili's increasing strangeness is only one of the developments bringing new tensions to the family. "My cousins and I were speaking a language that separated our world from that of our parents," Consuelo writes, "a slang peppered with terms like 'rock-and-roll' that had no direct equivalent in our native tongue." When Consuelo sleeps with a boy who tells all his friends, she doesn't die of shame but finds the strength to reject his judgment: "I was not like my mother who had to get the permission of all her relatives and ancestors before making any decisions about her life." She's guided by her cousin Patricio, who finds freedom in New York, and by Lucila, a fellow student from the slums who is everything the gente decente in Consuelo's family scorn. Cofer's luminous prose anatomizes both the constrictionnature of traditional Puerto Rican life and its beauty. We understand Consuelo's abiding love for her homeland as well as her need to get away. Perfect for girls growing out of YA titles, and adults will also savor this lovely coming-of-age tale for its elegant language and nuanced but definite judgments about manners and morals. Agent: Liz Darhansoff