Book Review: Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Sisterhood of the Traveling PantsWritten by Andrea Barreto

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares is an amazing start to a series based on four very different young girls as they navigate young adulthood. The all too familiar feeling of being caught in a moment where everything is on the brink of changing sets the tone for what is meant to be a transformative summer. Aptly nicknamed the Septembers because of their birthdays, Carmen, Tibby, Lena and Bridget have grown up spending all their time together. Yet this is the first summer they spend apart and for Carmen especially, this is becomes more difficult to understand.

Though they are the oldest sibling in their own families, each of the Septembers holds a different role in their circle: Tibby is the anti-conformist; Lena, the introverted painter; Bridget, the fearless athlete; and Carmen, the creative writer. Perhaps because Carmen is the youngest in her group of friends, she feels the most impacted by the different routes this summer is taking them. It was her desire that they take a pair of pants that magically fit each girl on their trips in hopes of keeping a piece of one another even in their time apart. Her summer journey takes her to South Carolina for some quality time with her mostly absent father. After her parents separated when she was a child, Carmen tried her hardest to be a daughter that her father would be proud of. The desire to be the best in the eyes of a parent is something I’m sure many young children can understand, and this summer was supposed to be Carmen’s biggest opportunity to show her father what he was missing.

Of course, things don’t go according to plan when Carmen realizes her father has become engaged to a woman with two seemingly perfect children of her own. Soon her father is breaking tennis dates with Carmen to deal with wedding details crises and cheering on his future son at soccer games. All of these appear to be normal family problems, which is why the books are so meaningful. These stories sound like my friends in high school, even my own family situation to an extent. It is profoundly beautiful in its simplicity. From this moment on we see Carmen at an uncomfortable bridesmaid dress fitting, made even more awkward because her full figure comes from her mother’s Puerto Rican heritage.  Rewind a little and we see at the beginning of the novel that even within her own group of friends, Carmen feels isolated; she fears the pants won’t fit over her thighs and she didn’t want to be “the big fatso”. Like many of us when faced with a difficult situation, Carmen literally runs away from the bridal store, expecting her father to notice her absence and being painfully disappointed when he fails to do so.

In her explanations to her mother and even Tibby, Carmen cannot understand why they would assume she’s mad at her father when she actually blames his new family. In her anger, she pushes Tibby away but ends up coming to the conclusion that she cannot admit any negative feelings towards her father. When I was a high school student reading this, this particular moment struck a nerve inside me. The difference was, however, that I could not stand up to my friends. I never had a problem speaking up for myself among my family, because I knew they would always be there for me regardless. The nervous heartbeats and trembling hands came whenever I had to assert myself to someone else, someone I didn’t know wouldn’t stay mad at me forever. This is exactly what Tibby reveals to Carmen when Carmen says she has no problem being mad at her friends – “Maybe, sometimes, it’s easier to be mad at the people you trust because you know they’ll always love you, no matter what.” This trust is something that, try as she might, Carmen was never able to develop with her father. The more she thought about it, the more Carmen realized there was so much she was holding back in an effort to have a happy relationship with her father. Being somewhat passive aggressive myself, I had to really reflect on what I personally was scared of when confronting other people.

Carmen took the time to consider that maybe there was something she herself was doing wrong, and in this way she managed to exude a quieter strength than what she expected. Sometimes there is this idea of how we expect courage to manifest, that it should be in your face and glaringly obvious as a feat of bravery. Occasionally, it is. But more often than not, it’s that quiet shift we feel within ourselves when something significant happens. Carmen felt that shift, and finally decided to act on it. She called her father and finally told him that she resented him for finding a family he preferred over her. Her father apologized but Carmen knew that the words would only matter if they both changed their behavior. So along with the help of her friends, she drove up for her father’s wedding and stood by his side in those traveling pants. While the pants themselves did not change Carmen as a person, it helped for all of the girls to believe that a force greater than they could imagine was a witness to their transformative journeys. This belief is told in many different ways and in all kinds of stories. The beauty of this narrative in particular comes from how deeply rooted it is in our daily reality while never forgetting the existence of that special magic they feel lives in a pair of blue jeans.

Review: “I am Malala”

80ba698508f76288e82c306520908022In “I am Malala” by Mala Yousafzai, we journey through the story of Malala.  Malala, a young girl born in Pakistan where educated women are rare, grows up with an understanding of how the power of raising our voices, words and education can change the world.

The book is inspirational right from the beginning with the story of Malala’s father,  Ziauddin. Her father, despite his upbringing in poverty, manages to become an educated man. Through the story of Ziuaddin, we first gain a glimpses to the environment and ideas that will later influence Malala. Unlike many other Pakastani men who are upset when a daughter is born, Ziauddin is proud of having a daughter. He makes sure that she receives the same  treatment as her brothers. He proceeds by refusing to allow the Woma (the celebration of a child’s life in the Pashtun culture) be paid by Baba (Malala’s grandfather) when her brothers are born. Ziauddin knows that an education that promotes independent thinking is nonexistent  in Pakistan, he decides to open a school.  Opening a school is not easy in Pakistan since principals are expected to bribe school officials for registration. This ignites Ziuaddin to speak out on the importance of children being educated and created an organization for principals to gather and fight the restrictions. Despite the adversities to education that are imposed, the Khusal school managed to flourish.

Malala grows up in her father’s school, develops a love for knowledge and, even though she’s a girl, is allowed to listen to politics. When she encounters children ridden in the dumps squandering for food, she realizes that not every child — especially girls– have an opportunity to be educated. Her own mother and aunts are unable to read, write, and share the same view that many Pakastani women share about school: Not seeing the point of going to school since they will end up being mothers and wives. This makes her even more appreciative to have an education, and she promotes a new way to view education as a gateway to change and opportunity.

During this time, Islam was gaining even more importance in the Pakastani society. False interpretations began to emerge, and the bearers of false interpretations of the Qu’ran were the Taliban terrorists who had moved from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Unknowingly, people began to support these terrors. This made Malala and her father realize the necessity of literacy more evident. If more people were literate, they would know about the misinterpretations of the Qu’ran the Taliban were giving. Schools began to be attacked and death threats began to spread with restrictions on how women and men should dress by the Taliban. The first to speak up was Ziauddin, encouraging  more people to speak up, reminding the reader how powerful our voices can be and how they can inspire others to stand up against injustices. During those dark days, students like Malala and her friends took refugee in school; for them, school became a getaway from the darkness the Taliban brought.

Under a pen name, Malala kept an online diary in a blog about living under the Taliban rule enhancing awareness to the problems Pakistan was facing. It is here where she realizes, “that the pen and words that come from it can be much more powerful than machine guns, tanks or helicopters. We were learning how to struggle. And we were learning how powerful we are when we speak.” Ultimately, this awareness is what saved her life in the end. “I am Malala” is a book worth reading to gain a greater understanding of world affairs and is a powerful reminder of how we can make a difference.

Book Review: “Fostered Adult Children Together”

9781475988390_p0_v1_s260x420Written by Alexis Bobadilla

Fostered Adult Children Together, On The Bridge to Healing … Will we ever get over it? tells the stories of over 60 former foster children whom faced several obstacles within the American Foster Home system and came out scarred, broken, yet positive, hopeful and faithful. Aside from the devastating experiences, there were many positive notes in the stories as well. Most of the journeys throughout this book end with the writer being emotionally scarred but with a positive view that they survived.

The main author of the book is a powerful woman named Carol Lucas who was also a former foster child. Lucas is the founder of F.A.C.T., or Fostered Adult Children Together, which she created to help former foster children come together for support, to encourage them, give them strength and help them heal together. Carol Lucas also wrote this book hoping to help other former foster children know that there are other people who have gone through the system, and to let them know that they are not alone.

Many of these stories are very moving, and show the benefits that come from the book and from receiving assistance from her organizatione. One of the stories is from a Hispanic woman named Tianna (Tia) Marie Hartford. She went through so much before the age of 9 years old. From being drowned to being chained in the basement, her story does not get better until the age of 25. The strength that this Latina woman has shown is very admirable. Even after everything she endured during her childhood, she still had enough courage to have children, twins to be exact. For most people the events that have happened to her would have traumatized someone from having their own children. Even though she has her doubts about being a mother, she is still trying to make sure they have a better life than she did. Hartford has a truly inspiring tale that needs to be told.

In another story the writer Terri Rimmer, who is also a former foster child, provided 10 Tips for Former Foster Children that every former foster child should follow.

Terri Rimmer shares the following tips for former foster children: 

Tip #1: Think positively about your future, now is a fresh start.

Tip #2: Find support

Tip #3: Get counseling

Tip #4: Join a church

Tip #5: Keep in contact with siblings and think wisely regarding family contact

Tip #6: Enjoy life without children for awhile

Tip #7: Volunteer

Tip #8: Stay away from drugs

Tip #9: Speak out

Tip #10: Ask for help

These tips should be a guideline for every former foster child who has been pushed through the foster care system. This book is highly recommended to anyone who is either interested in social work, foster care and for any former foster child who wants a support group to overcome their childhood memories.

5 Books Worth Reading this Summer

Summer break can mean a couple things and it all depends on who you ask. For some, summer break means going out of town, and if you fall under that category then you are lucky. However, for everyone else there is another way to travel and the best part is you don’t have to unpack when you come back home! Take a creative and mental vacation by reading a good book. If you are an avid reader or a person who reads for pleasure, below is a list of interesting and exciting young adult novels that you can read while on break!

1) Chain Reaction:  A Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles: This is a great novel if you’re looking for a love story with a twist.

Chain reaction tells the story through the perspective of Luis Fuentes and Nikki Cruz. Luis tries to walk the line and do good. He has big dreams of becoming an astronaut. Nikki follows two rules when it comes to dating boys, her number one rule  is to never trust a boy who says “I love you.”  Her second rule is to never date a boy from the South side of Fairfield. Luis takes the challenge of winning over Nikki; however, conflict arises and a dark future calls Luis, will Luis continue on his righteous path or follow his brothers footsteps into a dark world he is foreign to?


2) The Downside of Being Charlie by Jenny Torres Sanchez: This novel is ideal for the teen in high school who finds themselves in an awkward stage of life.

Charlie is in his senior year of high school. Even though things should be looking up since he has lost thirty pounds over the summer, they are not. Charlie must still deal with the name calling, which happens to be “Chunks.” The worst part about the year is that his mother has disappeared, and it’s not the first time. To add to the mix, his father doesn’t want to talk about it. To top it all off, Charlie has a crush on the new girl in school, the beautiful Charlotte VanderKleaton; however, he doesn’t know if she likes him back. There is one thing in Charlie’s life that doesn’t totally suck this year: his new found talent of photography. Will Charlie make it through the year with only one good thing going for him?


3) Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia. This film has been adapted into a film and is being premiered on Valentines Day! However, this is an unconventional love story.

When Lena Duchannes moves into the small  Southern town’s oldest and infamous plantation in Gatlin, she can’t help but stand out from the rest. Lena struggles with an old family curse that has haunted her family for generations and is having a hard time concealing her powers. At the same time, Ethan Wate, who also lives in the Gatlin, has been having dreams of a beautiful girl that he has never met before. When he meets Lena he feels an unexplainable connection between them, what is behind the connection is a secret they will soon uncover.



4) Gringolandia by Lyn Miller. This novel hits home for most Latinita readers who have immigrant family members or are immigrants from another country themselves.

Daniel and his family have been living in the U.S since 1980, due to fleeing rom Chile due to Daniel’s papá’s arrest. In the United States Daniel has a completely new life. He’s in a rock band and even has a new girlfriend, Courtney. He also hopes to soon become a citizen of the U.S when he turns eighteen. However, Daniel’s father is released from jail and is exiled to “Gringolandia.” Papá is conflicted by the torture and experiences he went through in prison. Daniel worries that his father’s path of alcohol abuse and self destruction will only worsen and he will never be able to have the ideal father-son relationship with his dad. Will Courtney’s plan to start a bilingual human rights paper only stir things up more with Papá?


5) Choke by Diana Lopez. This novel is for teens interested in an unconventional friendships.

Windy wants to change everything about herself, if only her parents would let her. Windy is in the eighth grade and wishes to get highlights in her hair, wear make up and change her wardrobe, but nothing seems to change. Everything is the same until one day when Nina, the popular and confident girl at school, befriends Windy. Windy’s life changes drastically, she gains new friends and is even asked by Nina to be “breath sisters,” although Windy is unsure of what that means she still wants to discover what it is. However, this new crowd of friends and life comes with a dangerous price.

Las Comadres and Count on Me

There are many times in a person’s life when being alone isn’t enough and a comforting ear is needed. Las Comadres is an organization that grew with women in need of a good listener. It is a national network of women who meet within their own community once a month to talk about friendship, tell their stories, and discuss how to help the community. It was started in Austin, Texas with the goal of encouraging Latina women to support each other. Now there are multiple branches around the US and internationally. Recently, Las Comadres created an anthology entitled, “Count On Me: Tales Of Sisterhoods and Fierce Friendships,” where they asked several of their members to write about friendship and how they have overcome obstacles during difficult times.

There are twelve non-fiction stories within the creative collaboration that advocate the importance of comadres for those living on the border, deep in the US, or anywhere in Latin America.  I had the pleasure of listening in on the conference call where Nora de Hoyos Comstock, founder of Las Comadres, interviewed a few of the authors from the anthology.  Adriana Lopez, editor of Criticas Magazine and many other anthologies, loved the idea of a Las Comadres anthology and pitched the idea to be published; all she had to do was find a collaboration with different types of Latino authors.  To bring a cohesive voice to the anthology, Lopez focused on each story’s dramatic event where the reader could relate. “I made sure there was an arc in each of the stories,” says Lopez.

Some of the writers who participated in the conference interview were Lorraine Lopez, Dr. Ana Nogales, and Reyna Grande. When asked about their writing process and if they had learned anything about themselves or their friendship, the authors unanimously replied that they all had realized an understanding of the amount of emotion, effort and energy put into themselves and the relationship. Lorraine Lopez stated, “the writing process did help me learn about myself, both of us, how we work, and what made the relationship last… both parties need to be invested in the relationship so that everyone can benefit and learn.” Lorraine Lopez refers to both parties as her mentor/mentee relationship she experienced with her Professor turned comadre.

The main point of Las Comadres was to give women someone they could count on to turn to during a particular time in their life, whether it be happy or tragic. In Nogales’s story, “A Heart to Heart Connection,” she has a relationship described in the title, “I wasn’t alone, I’m not an outsider, I’m one of many who are striving and searching for a comadre… looking for a oneness, a wholeness.” Although each author had a different comadre, they all seemed to be looking for the same thing, companionship.

Commenting on the economic situation, Comstock asked if there were any difficulties finding time for each comadre. Nogales stated how “Comadres is a community effort where the building never stops.” Economic downfall seemed to be just another obstacle for the Comadres to face. For example author Reyna Grande shared how she went through many hardships alone while she was younger but, “all the wonderful moments that came out, being able to relive those (awful) moments…” helped her move forward.

Transcending Literature:
In literature, the supporting character or character of most importance to the protagonist is called the foil, without the foil the story would have no meaning or sequence. Make sure you find the best supporting character you know, and remember to reciprocate the favor. Whatever point in life you see yourself in whether it be great, awful or stagnant, remember that you always have a comadre, or in some instances compadre, who will be right by your side.

Book Review: Gringolandia

Gringolandia by Lyn Miller-Lachmann follows the life of Daniel and his father, Marcelo, and their struggle to find the father-son relationship they left behind in Chile.

Daniel Aguilar was born into a difficult time in Chile. Unfortunately, Chile was under the rule of Antonio Pinochet and the country was in a state of despair. Daniel’s papá, Marcelo Aguilar, was a revolutionary man, fighting to make a change in a country that he loved and wished to see free. Along with his partners, Marcelo would publish a newsletter, Justicia, revealing truths that the government wished to keep hidden away. In a dictatorship, any sign of defiance would be met with punishment and that is what led to the beginning of Gringolandia.

Part One of Gringolandia is labeled “Then” and takes place in 1980. The first chapter of Part One is narrated by Daniel Aguilar who at the time was just 11 years old. He tells the story of how soldiers filled his house, mistreating his mother and causing him great fear. Daniel bears witness to the arrest of his father and feels guilt; sure that it is his fault. Chapter 1 fades away with Daniel’s tears and into the struggle of his Marcelo in prison between the years of 1980 and 1986. This chapter is told in Marcelo’s hazy point of view. He has been beaten and tortured, losing even the ability to write. Chapter two ends with the release of Marcelo. “You have seventy-two hours to leave the country,” the commander tells him.

Part Two, “Now,” begins and lets us meet a seventeen-year-old Daniel. Daniel and his mother are at the airport waiting to finally see his father. It has been six years since Marcelo’s imprisonment and needless to say, both Daniel and his mother are excited to see him again. Upon first sight, Daniel is shocked. His father doesn’t look like what he remembered and what the picture assured he looked like.  “This guy is really messed up,” Daniel thinks. “Maybe he isn’t Papá.” The torture Marcelo endure in prison has taken a toll on his appearance as well as on the independent and strong demeanor he once had.

The majority of the novel is set in Daniel’s point of view. The reader learns that Daniel has taken a liking to the United States and even has hopes of gaining citizenship to become an American. He is in a band, does well in school, and even has an American girlfriend; “a pretty gringa,” Marcelo calls her. Marcelo is not impressed with the ease in which Daniel has gotten accustomed to American life. As a matter of fact, he aggressively likes to remind his family that they will soon move back to Chile so he can continue his fight against Pinochet.

Throughout the novel, the chapter changes point of view and we can see what Courtney, Daniel’s girlfriend, is thinking and experiencing. Although her life seems perfect, excellent student, excellent daughter, excellent teacher, and even excellent girlfriend, Courtney seems to have no faults. When we get the opportunity to read her story, the reader learns that she doesn’t have the perfect life that she is thought to have. In fact, she has gone through difficult times, just like Daniel had.

Because of the torture he faced, Marcelo took to alcohol to forget the pain. Sadly, he quickly became an alcoholic and lost control to that drug. Though he decided he wanted to continue writing a newsletter like Justicia, the alcohol often got in the way of his success. His family disapproved of his drinking habits and did not like his newly aggressive nature. The life Daniel imagined he’d have with his father back quickly proved to be quite the opposite; no one in the household seemed to want Marcelo around.

This young adult novel mixes Chile’s rich history with a father-son relationship fighting to grow stronger and stronger. Throughout Gringolandia, Daniel learns not only of his father’s new attitude, but of the true struggle his home country is going through.  Daniel must choose between the growing relationship with his father and his homeland, Chile, and the life he has known for the past six years.


Spotlight: Author Junot Díaz

Latinitas met with New Jersey/Dominican Republic native writer Junot Díaz on his most recent book tour through Austin, TX.  Díaz’s first novella Drown was received with national critical acclaim. He followed it with a Pulitzer-prize winning novel: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a story that flips back and forth between the awkward life of a comic-book reading Latino geek to the intricate history of the Dominican Republic from the 20s on, a rugged depiction of the despised and tragic Trujillo dictatorship.  Diaz’s newest: This is How You Lose Her, restores Drown’s main character…Yunior as he traverses in and outside the psyche of women, young and old, tethered and lonely, haggard and vibrant.

Latinitas: Who influenced you to write?

Junot: It started at my school library.  My future in writing was made in my love of books. The idea of books and the community of books. More than one person will read a book out of the library.  Fifty people may have touched the book you are reading, or more. Books, in some ways, travel through time. What you are reading, someone may have read 20 years ago.  It was in the school library where my love of books exploded in my brain.

The book that comes to mind that changed my life is Sandra Cisneros’ Woman Hollering Creek.  It told me the quotidian challenges of our community could be art.  It was the first vocabulary I read of a Latino writer.  The immensity of my debt to Sandra Cisneros is too large to be described, what I owe to her.

Latinitas: How much of being a 1st generation American made you write?

Junot: I don’t know if I didn’t wrestle with immigration if I would have written at all.  I am also attempting a bridge back to my former life. At the heart of my writing lays my Dominican-ness, my links to African Diaspora.

Latinitas: Book reviewers seem to want to peg you as your main character Yunior in your other books.  What are your thoughts about that?

Junot: It’s a way to avoid talking about the artistry and avoids and denigrates the interesting things I write, trying to reduce my writing to memoir.

Latinitas: What do you think of the DREAMers, the undocumented students in the U.S. trying to achieve citizenship?

Junot: They are the bravest part of our civic experiment today.  The prejudice against these kids reveals the craven cruelties of our leadership, and their treatment will prove a hideous vindication of society. There courage and leadership of youth is phenomenal. Obama and Romney come awfully short on acknowledging this group.

Latinitas: What do you read?

Junot: Everything.

Latinitas: Everything, huh? You are saying you read science fiction to women’s romance novels?

Junot: Hah! My partner authors women’s romance novels and I’ve learned this is the most voracious reading crowd of all.  I am reading histories lately and an anthropology book called Cruel Optimism, that talks about why poor people side with corporations and corrupt leaders.  I just read Salmon Rushdie’s newest and check with my friends…The New York Review of Books is probably the best source of good stuff coming out.

Latinitas: What is it like to write a book?

Junot: It’s like running a high altitude marathon.  Each book, though takes a different set of muscles. This is How You Lose Her, a reporter pointed out, is a series of apocalypses – relationships, cultures, destruction, rebuilding.

Latinitas: Critics get on you about writing women too, maybe even going as far as calling you a macho. I like how you write women. It might be uncomfortable to see our self-esteem challenges illustrated, but I think you tell our story pretty accurately.

Junot: I am writing of a masculinity I observed.  Women have it just hard.  I don’t have to be hot, if I’m confident as a man. I don’t have to be confident if I’m prosperous. It doesn’t matter what a woman does, achieves - she is being judged for her looks. And,  1 out of 6 women will report sexual abuse or rape in their life. This is problem with masculinity.  And she’s shamed for it or gets no justice.

Latinitas: Speaking of injustice…how does the publishing industry treat Latinos?

Junot: As does the whole country. Not well!  We are weened on a steady diet of anti-Latino venom right now breeding a monster afflicting our Latino identity.  Our country looks at Latino identity and does everything to afflict her, yet we couldn’t live without her. She is “Atlas” holding up this country.

Latinitas:  Your readers assume your characters reflect some components of you, the comic book lover, the voracious reader or even a Dungeons & Dragons player. If you were a teen boy today with all the emerging technology/social media, how do you think you would geek out?

Junot: I guess I’d geek in ways that weren’t popular.  I’d probably still be playing Dungeons and Dragons.


Latina Authors Every Latina Should Know

In schools across the U.S, books by Latina authors are often overlooked. The reading list of assigned classics rarely include books from Latina authors even though their writing has gained significant momentum. These 10 Latina authors you should look out for.  These are authors whose writing we can identify with. Their books allow us to relate with their plots or heroines, and we can see our experiences and traditions on the pages. It cultivates a sense of pride in ourselves to see Latinas, and in this case Latina authors, succeed and our heritages become acknowledged. Check out this list of talented Latina authors and their most notable books!

1. Christina Garcia is a half -Cuban and half -Guatemalan author. Her most notable work is Dreaming in Cuban, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. Dreaming in Cuban tells the story of three generations of Cuban women and the effects that migration had on them. It shows us another Latina experience that is more common than we think of what it is like when knowing about your roots  and culture is denied to you.

2.Sandra Cisneros is a Mexican-American writer with many notable awards under her belt, such as the American Book Award and Clay McDaniel Fellowship. Although she is mostly known for the House on Mango Street, her semi-autobiographical book Caramelo is just as marvelous as her earlier books. In Caramelo, we receive a portrait of the formation of a bi-cultural identity of the Cecilia. We follow her and family as they travel from Chicago, Illinois, to Mexico for the summer where family secrets and lies are revealed.

3. Denise Chavez won the Hispanic Heritage Awards and the Premio Aztlan Literary award. Her novel Loving Pedro Infante is set in New Mexico. She uses the Mexican Icon Pedro Infante to explore the themes of identity and gender roles in her novel by making her heroine Tere Avila a Pedro Infante fan. It gives us a valuable insight into stereotypes or beliefs perpetrated by mainstream media like movies.

4. Sandra Rodriguez Barron has won the International Latino Book Award for debut fiction for her mysterious novel The Heiress of Water tells the story of Monica Winters a half Salvadoran and half American girl. Monica is forced out of El Salvador, the country she grew up in, to move to the U.S. after loosing her mother. After many years later, she returns. Upon returning she has to confront her past, the death her mother, with the scientific discoveries made by her mother.

5. Laura Esquivel is a Mexican author highly praised for her novel Like Water for Chocolate, which won the Abby Award. Although not written by a U.S. Latina, we can still identify with the young Tita De la Garza who, because of tradition must repress her true desires and feelings. It’s inspirational to watch Tita go from a submissive girl to a girl who refuses to remain silent. It’s a story about expressing yourself and finding your voice.

6.Esmeralda Santiago was Puerto Rican born and moved to the U.S. at the age of 13. She speaks of this experience in her memoir When I Was Puerto Rican. Her book explores the common theme of identity and her struggles with learning a new language—English. In her book, she shares the prejudices she encountered and the new bi-cultural idendity she formed. Esmeralda has been the recipient of numerous awards including the Alex Award and Peabody Award.

7. Ana Castillo, a Mexican-American, is the winner of the Sor Juana Achievement Award. She is recognized for the creation of the Chicana telenovela So Far from God. The novel is set in a border town in New Mexico, giving a depiction of both Mexican and American traditions and cultures. The novel is combined with magic realism to tell the story of Sofia and how she becomes empowered despite the hardships she endured and the daughters she lost.

8. Julia Alvarez was born in New York, but raised in the Dominican Republic. She has won the Hispanic Heritage Award in literature. The book that brought her prominence is How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent, often dubbed the Latina version of Little Women. It tells the story of 4 Dominican girls who, out of political reasons must relocate in the U.S. As the title suggests, these girls try to loose their “accents” in other words they try to fit in with the “American” culture and as a result encounter cultural clashes with their parents.

9. Angie Cruz is a Dominican-American author who spent many years traveling to and from the U.S. and Dominican Republic. Her book Soledad tells the story of Soledad who is desperate to get away from the barrio she grew up in. She does achieve this and becomes an art major college student, but due to her mother’s illness she must return to and face the barrio she wanted to escape.

10.Sandra Benitez is half Puerto Rican. Her book Bitter Grounds garnered her not only praise, but the American Book Award. The novel is set in El Salvador in 1932 and tells the story of Mercedes a Pipil Indian woman who loses most of her family in an uprising. We follow three generations of women whose difficulties did not bog them down, but they remain sustained and strong.


Inside Beautiful Darkness

Mean Girls - LatinitasAuthor Kami Garcia was raised outside of Washington D.C, but always held a connection to the South. At the age of thirteen, Garcia and her family moved in with her grandmother and great-grandmother, both who grew up in small towns of North Carolina. Garcia grew up living the southern way, but couldn’t be more different than her grandmother and great-grandmother. “I wasn’t exactly like either of them. I wore tons of black, a lot of rings, and spent hours writing in my journals. By the time I graduated high school, I had probably filled a hundred of them,” said Garcia. Garcia earned a Masters degree in Education and taught in Washington D.C. until she moved to Los Angeles, where she taught for twelve years and worked as a Reading Specialist. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two children, and dog Spike.

Margaret Stohl was born in Pasadena, California where writing was her way of life. Stohl has written everything from video game manuals to action screenplays to poetry. Stohl studied American Literature at Amherst and Yale, earned her Master’s degree in English from Stanford University and studied creative writing at the University of East Anglia, Norwich. Stohl also taught as a teacher’s assistant at Yale and Stanford. “I spent more years in school than a person ever should, because let’s face it, reading books is so much better than having a job,” said Stohl. She now lives in Los Angeles, California with her family. She admits that almost every member of her family has been involved in the process of writing The Beautiful Creatures Series as she has them edit her drafts on a daily bases.

In this exclusive Las Comadres Author Teleconference, co-authors of “Beautiful Darkness,” Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl answer a few questions as they discuss their highly successful novels, what its like to be considered the next “Twilight,” and share some advice for aspiring writers?


1. What was your inspiration for “Beautiful Darkness” and “The Beautiful Creatures series?”

Kami Garcia: We got the idea to write “Beautiful Creatures” from Margaret’s teen daughters and my teen students and we were talking about the kind of books that we like to read and the kind of books we wished were out there. We came up with this idea that we thought was clever. We went home and we told Margaret’s daughters about it and they said, “Well you guys will never write a book, your not gonna write a story, your gonna start and you won’t finish.” So basically they dared us and we wrote “Beautiful Creatures” in twelve weeks. Almost like a serialized fiction. We gave her daughter’s and my students pages every day or two, they were texting us all the time, and the story which later became a book, kinda virally moved through several high schools. And that’s how it was born.

2. In the novels what is the importance of giving the female protagonist, Lena Duchannes, the power and strength, as opposed to giving it to the lead male character, Ethan Wate?

Margaret Stohl: I have three daughters and I aspire to be as strong as they are. And I think as a mother of teenagers we were all reading the same fantasy books and my girls became disillusioned with some of the books they were reading, because they felt like some of the girls had incredibly low self-esteem and had nothing they could do but follow a boy around and they said, “Why does the girl never get to be powerful? Why is the girl never the magical one? Why does she just follow around the boy and be in love? I can rescue myself.” So because we were writing this book for them we had a set agenda that they gave us and the challenge was no vampires, we are tired of vampires, we’re tired of whiny girl narrators, we’re tired of the girls never having powers, and we’re tired of books that feel generic. We want a really specific sense of place. That is really the way we wrote this book to meet those four demands and so that kinda framed the way we worked on it. For a very specific readership of seven teenagers. We only know strong women.

Kami Garcia: I don’t know if we could write a weak girl, unless it was a moment of weakness. We don’t know any teenage girls that aren’t strong. We really don’t. And I think even teenage girls that aren’t armed, that seem quiet and maybe they aren’t physically strong, a lot of them still  are really strong inside.

3. How does it feel to have “The Beautiful Creatures” series considered as the next “Twilight?”

Margaret Stohl: That sounds great…if it were true it would feel even better. We never wanted the book to be anything, but what it is. We just wrote the quirky little book that it is and we’re just happy that people have been able to connect with it the way they have. And that is really all we wanted to tell one specific story, a story that belongs in a really strange little town in the middle of the south with these strange powerful families and that’s it, thats what we set out to do.

Kami Garcia: If we have a tenth of the number of people that enjoy the Twilight Saga than we are lucky. We are just happy to have readers all over the world that enjoy the books. I didn’t think they would be reading the book in all these different countries that we get emails from. I think that’s really special.

4. What advice would you give young girls who are aspiring authors?

Kami Garcia: Read as much as you can. Read good books, read in your genre, read out of your genre. I think if you wanna be a writer you have to write. A lot of even adult aspiring writers are like, “my draft isn’t like your book.” I feel like saying, “if you could have even seen what the draft of our book was like. Your looking at a book in a store that is published, that an editor, copy editor, and authors have gone over hundreds of times.” Don’t compare your draft to something published. Write the best draft you can and finish it and then go back and fix it. But don’t look at a book in a book store and think, “oh my writing isn’t as good as that.” That is an impossible standard to meet, especially when your young.

Margaret Stohl: I encourage teenagers to work on having a perspective, even before they can write it. When you read a book, read it critically and think, “Did i like that, yes or no? Why didn’t I like that?” What were the components that made it interesting to you, because then you start to develop a perspective and I think that’s kinda the first thing to developing a voice which is more than anything something an author needs to have.

Movie Review: Earthlings

The movie Earthlings sends the message to not ignore animal rights.  The documentary released in 2010 shines light on animal rights and the horrid ways of the meat industry. The movie is directed by Shaun Monson and Maggie Q. who are practicing vegans and narrated by Joaquin Phoenix. There have been videos exposing the meat industries such as Earthlings, Peaceable Kingdom, and The Witness.

What is humane? The Merriam-Webster dictionary states that it means being “marked by compassion, sympathy, or consideration for humans or animals.” Why is it that people are constantly fighting for animal rights, yet many animals are still being treated badly? This movie highlights the inhumane treatment animals face.

It is not the typical video you rent for a movie night with your friends, but it should be. Earthlings shines light on some topics that have been forgotten. The purpose of this video is not to scare people into becoming vegans, but to make people aware of how animals are being treated. As I watched this video, there were moments when I had to turn away. I fought to keep the tears in. Watching a video as powerful as this only leaves you thinking. I found the most shocking part of the film to be the fact that the people who were slaughtering the animals seemed to do it without giving it a second thought. After this video I had a revelation. That day I decided to stop eating meat and go vegetarian. The message of the video left such an impact that I did not even hesitate when making this decision. I believe it would be hypocritical on my part to claim that I am an animal lover and continue eating them.

Humans decide when, how and where the animals will die. In the film, Joaquin Phoenix says something that is unfortunately true, “if we had to kill our own meat, we would all be vegetarians.” It is unfortunate that the ignorance of humans causes the pain and suffering of so many animals.

Chickens being dumped on top of each other, cows being slaughtered without anesthetic, pigs being burned alive, it is cruelty at its peak. It is not too late to change.  It is not too late to change the way we treat our fellow earthlings, change the way we treat each other and change the way we treat the planet.

What can we do? Surely not everyone will avoid a hamburger after they watch this video, but we can take steps to help. As the dominant species on this planet we have the ability to help our fellow earthlings. One person can make a difference. No living creature should have to die the way these innocent animals do. The way they are treated should not be acceptable. How did humans sink down to this level of treatment? What went wrong? When did we lose our ethics?

As humans we must realize that we have to change our ways. Helping others can only benefit society. It is up to human earthlings to provide a better life for those who serve as our food, clothes and companions.

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