readergirlz is a literacy and social media project for teens, awarded the National Book Foundation's Innovations in Reading Prize. The rgz blog serves as a depot for news and YA reviews from industry professionals and teens. As volunteers return full force to their own YA writing, the organization continues to hold one initiative a year to impact teen literacy. All are welcome to "like" us on Facebook!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Rgz Salon: Tell Us We're Home by Marina Budhos, Reviewed by Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Rgz SALON member Lyn Miller-Lachmann is the Editor-in-Chief of MultiCultural Review; the author of the award-winning multicultural bibliography Our Family, Our Friends, Our World; the editor of Once Upon a Cuento, a collection of short stories by Latino authors; and most recently, the author of Gringolandia, a young adult novel about a refugee family living with the aftermath of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. (Read the fascinating Cover Story for Gringolandia.)

We're honored to have her here as part of the rgz SALON, a feature where four of the top kidlit experts clue us in to the best YA novels they've read recently. Today, Lyn reviews Tell Us We're Home by Marina Budhos (Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, 2010).

"Although Jaya, Lola, and Maria live in the same New Jersey suburb as their well-heeled classmates and have the same interests and goals, they know they will never be fully a part of their community. All three eighth graders’ mothers work as nannies and housekeepers, often for the families of their classmates. Thus, they wear other students’ hand-me-downs, never get invited to parties, and, when Jaya’s mother is accused of stealing from her employer’s home, become the object of suspicion and malicious gossip.

"Because of their shared situation as immigrants and outsiders, Jaya, from Trinidad, Lola, from Slovakia, and Maria, from Mexico, are best friends. But the alleged theft threatens to tear them apart. Firebrand Lola tries to clear Mrs. Lal’s name, but her actions alienate everyone around her and land her in the office of a therapist. The lost income leads Jaya’s mother to consider leaving Meadowbrook and moving in with family in New York City. Maria falls in love with an older Anglo boy she meets at the park, leading Lola to dismiss her as shallow and headed for exploitation and heartbreak.

"Budhos uses an omniscient third person narrative to set the scene and portray the thoughts and experiences of all three characters, usually in alternating chapters but sometimes all at once. This unusual approach for a contemporary young adult novel generally works, allowing readers to see things that the characters themselves do not see or understand. At times, though, the shifting perspectives shortchange a character or scene. Jaya—her background, thoughts, and experiences—receive the most attention. The author lovingly depicts Jaya’s childhood in Trinidad, her relationship with her late father, an artist, and her relatives’ lives in New York. While Lola and Maria’s backstories receive more cursory treatment, Budhos establishes an interesting (and surprising) relationship between Lola and the son of her mother’s employer, and the fate of Maria’s angry cousin Renaldo provides a timely commentary on the treatment of Latino immigrants in many states and communities today.

"Those born into privilege are accustomed to treating the people who work for them as invisible. Tell Us We’re Home reveals the thoughts, the aspirations, and ultimately the humanity of three young women whose immigrant and class status have made them outsiders but no longer invisible." --Lyn Miller-Lachmann


MissAttitude said...

Can't wait to start reading this one! I'm hoping to learn more about Trinidad and Slovakia, since I've never been to either of those countries and I know nothing about their culture.

When a novel focuses on three people though, I usually prefer alternate POVS or equal treatment of the main characters becuase I like learning all about them.

I hate how people look down on maids and other people in the service industry, people could not live without the street cleaners, janitors, etc. and they should be treated with respect. Gah. This novel would probably make me really mad too.

Melissa Walker said...

This sounds like such a great idea for a book, I love the focus on characters who are usually minimalized in some way. Thanks, Lyn!

Lyn Miller-Lachmann said...

I really liked her portrayal not only of Trinidad but also of the Trinidadian community in Queens where Jaya's extended family lives. My husband grew up in the neighborhood next door, and the author really captured the feel of the place.

Doret said...

Tell Us We're Home is great. It touches on so many different things.

The author made me hungry always mentioning Roti's.

What Maria family is facing got me to thinking about Arizonia.

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