Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Review: Sister Chicas by Alvarado, Cardinal, Coralin.

Review: Sister Chicas
Lisa Alvarado, Ann Hagman Cardinal, Jane Alberdeston Coralin
NY: New American Library. 2006.
ISBN: 0451217705

Michael Sedano

Some readers avoid coming of age novels, perhaps out of reluctance to raise smarmy emotions, perhaps out of fear of wakening childhood demons, maybe a bad experience with an earlier title. If you, like me, enjoy coming of age stories, you're in for a triple treat when you read Sister Chicas. The three-woman writing team of Lisa Alvarado, Ann Hagman Cardinal, Jane Alberdeston Coralin, have crafted with honest sentimentality an interesting story--and the three-character plot’s the thing wherein to capture the interest of a reader.

What a plot in urban Chicago. Fourteen-year old biracial Taina’s colorful mother insists her daughter fete her fifteenth birthday with a traditional Puerto Rico style Quincerañera. Punked out Leni, a couple years ahead, struggles with all the cultural contradictions swirling around spiked hair, fitting into her worlds while struggling with Puerto Ricanness. College freshman Grachi, is blossoming out of her teens, finding her new expectations clashing with expectations everyone else holds for her.

The authors lull the reader into thinking they have a bubblegum sitcom in Taina’s mother and some breathless events like a virgin’s first passionate kiss. Then halfway into the story, the light and entertaining story of a little girl's 15añera predicament turns profoundly serious, reverberating in everyone’s lives, magnifying all the complications attendant upon falling in love, falling in puppylove, jealousy, rivalry, familia, and coming of age.

In alternating from one woman’s voice to the next, each with her own personal but nearly identical problems, the writers suggest to a young reader that bad as matters may seem, they stay bad. The good news is the girl grows into the woman who can handle every next crisis.

Grachi lives a committed Chicana’s life, working in a bookstore, volunteer tutoring at el centro. A talented writer, her story gives the writers freedom to muse about the writer’s career and writing. There is some good writing going on in Sister Chicas. For example, Leni’s rhapsodic voyage through her neighborhood is a small gem of local color that also captures some of Leni’s estrangement from her Latina culture:

I found myself listening to the bustle around me, the musical sounds of Spanish, playing a game to see how many words I could catch, what I could understand. I walked along the wide streets, and for the first time really looked at the faces of the guys on the stoops, their rides parked in front of the buildings, radios blaring salsa, talking rapid-fire with cigarettes dangling from their mouths. Occasionally their raspy voices would erupt in rowdy laughter. Father down the steps the old men slid dominoes into place on the edge of the concrete stairs, concentrating despite all the noise of the city around them and the cold autumn wind biting through their worn jackets.” (152)

Grachi and Taina are poor, while Leni’s a pampered biracial child with an absent father’s credit cards. Two biracial characters-- Leni is half Irish half PR, Taina’s half black half PR—add further interest to the cultural content of this worthwhile novel. Three voices allow the three writers to weave provocative issues into the novel, making it perfect for young readers to enjoy, share with friends, and talk about in class or with an adult.

Give a copy of Sister Chicas to the boys in your family to treat them to an intimate glimpse into female coming of age sexuality and emotions. Give a copy to the girls in your family for their take on the same thing. I suspect many a girl will see something of herself in the mother-dominated child, the outcast push-it-to-the-limit punk, the do-gooder who will not find time for herself. Such readers will take satisfaction from witnessing how these young women make sense of their lives and move on as best they can. And there's nothing really wrong with punk.

The work is new out of New American Library, and the authors are marketing the title at their own website, sisterchicas.com.

Can you believe it's almost June? time to finish off the current reading stack to make room for some of the titles you've read about and will read here at La Bloga and elsewhere. And remember, La Bloga invites guest columnists! Leave a comment or email me with your column. Until next week,
read! gente.


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