Another amazing middle grade novel with lots of diversity and uplifting messages about resilience, friendship, family relationships and finding the courage to surrendering to life’s circumstances as they present themselves. .
The year is 1967. Ruthie is a 10 year old girl who has recently moved to the United States from Cuba, along with her mother (mami), father (papa), and little brother (Izzie). Papa is the patriarch and the sole bread winner in the family. He works multiple jobs to provide for his family and strongly believes that he is the man of the house. Mami is a stay at home mother, who feels displaced from her home country, Cuba. She misses Cuba and feels lonely here in the United States. She is a docile character – submissive and even self centered in some ways, although she loved her kids. Then there are several other interesting characters, like Ramu, Baba, Chincho, Danielle, etc. One character that I liked the most is Baba, who was born in Poland but immigrated to Cuba to escape Hitler and immigrated again to the US to escape Fidel Castro. .
Ruthie lives in Queens, where she is surrounded by diverse neighbors. I liked Ramu, Ruthie’s friend who recently immigrated from India with his parents. His mother’s fears of loosing connection with her roots is something that I see a lot in the Indian American community at varying degrees, which is probably why I liked Ramu’s character so much.
Ruthie gets into a car accident and ends up in a full body cast. She is confined to her bed for almost a year during which she undergoes a metamorphosis. The Ruthie that emerges afterwards is quiet, still and wise from her experience. I personally could relate to some situations that I went through in my own life that had a similar effect on me. Mami’s struggles with depression while taking care of Ruthie made her more human and more relatable, barring a few instances, where she struck me as a bit self-absorbed.
The fact that Ruthie’s story was spun out from the author’s own childhood experience makes this story more authentic and real for me. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this story that I am eager to discuss with my adolescent daughter.