Started: September 19, 2015
Finished: September 24, 2015
Category: 1 of 2, Multicultural
Genre: Multicultural, Based on a True Story
Awards: Arkansas Teen Book Award 2013 nominee, Florida Teen Reads 2012-2013 nominee, Oprah’s 2012 Kids’ Reading List for ages 12 to 14, Américas Award Honorable mention, Skipping Stones Honor Award for Multi-cultural/International Literature, Bank Street Best Books, *Outstanding Merit* for ages 12-14, Current 2012 Colorado Book Award Finalist, A School Library Journal Best Book of 2011, TAYSHAS list (Texas student reading list) 2012-2013, ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults 2012, A Junior Library Guild Selection, An Amelia Bloomer Project Recommended Book (feminist literature, ALA-affiliated), South Carolina Young Adult Book Award nominee
Themes: Coming of Age, Survival, Poverty, Overcoming Adversity
Rating: 5 Stars
Age/Interest Range: 7th grade and up
Virginia is a young indigenas girl of Ecuador in the (estimated) early 1970s. Her parents send her away to work as a nanny for another family at the ripe old age of SEVEN. Although this “job” takes her to the next level of society (the mestizo life) she is physically and emotional abused, and paid nothing. Virginia’s voice is that of a typical girl, despite her hardships. She is infatuated with the TV show MacGuyer, has a hilarious snarky attitude (most times completely justified!), and longs for…MORE.
Even though life with mestizos is still rough (because she’s basically a slave), she is exposed to a much better life than if she would have stayed with her uneducated, illiterate, and filthy indigenas family. Virginia secretly teaches herself to read, hides her science books/experiments, and somehow never gives up on a better life. She greatly struggles with not knowing her place in the world…and time and time again, she is forced to chose between the lesser of two (or three, or four) evils. Her life is full of complicated relationships, extraordinary hardships, and limited choices. For the student who just can’t believe there is any life all that different from her own, the realistic cycles of abuse and poverty in this story are REAL and eye-opening.
Virginia never gives up and somehow manages to move forward despite all the cards stacked against her. Even when a brighter future is near, she struggles with truly knowing herself…and where she fits into the world.
This books triggers so many great questions about humanity:
How can a child end the cycle of abuse/poverty?
When there are no obstacles left, what keeps us from moving forward?
How do you balance having any kind of pride in your culture when you’re trying to run away from it?
Overall, I loved every single page of this book. I knew nothing of these cultures before picking up this title. The fact that this is based on a true story just makes it all the better! Resau perfectly balances coming of age issues and humor with real, life threatening issues. I know that sounds complicated, but that WAS Virginia’s life.
I’m not sure I would teach this as a whole-class read. *There is some threat of sexual abuse. Actual abuse never happens on page. There are also a few coming-of-age self-actualization/sexuality issues. Nothing inappropriate, but many be difficult for male readers to respect. That being said, I believe this would make a great small group read.
Overall Literary Merit: HIGH
I’m not going to try to reinvent the wheel. This book has been out for a few years and is a hugely popular text for whole class. Here are a few useful online resources to use with this book:
In the back of the book, these a useful glossary and pronunciation guide.
Google visual images can assist in understanding the differences between the subcultures of the Ecuadorian indigenas and metizo (clothing, housing, celebrations)