Who wrote this book and when?
Julia Alvarez. 1992.

Has there been a film version?
Nope.

Who are the important characters?
The four girls:
Carla – the oldest, now a psychologist
Sandra/Sandi – the second daughter, an artist who has now suffered a mental breakdown
Yolanda/Yoyo/Joe – the third daughter, a poet who also suffers a nervous breakdown despite her tough personality
Sophia/Fifi – the baby and the biggest rebel
Carlos Garcia – the girls’ father, once a prominant doctor in the Dominican Republic, now an enemy of Trujillo
Laura – the girls’ mother, raised in the US

What’s it about?
This book is the story of the “Americanization” of four Dominican girls from a prominent family – only it is told in reverse chronological order. At the beginning, we learn that Fifi is estranged from her father, both Sandra and Yo have suffered mental breakdowns, and that now Fifi is trying to bring the family back together for her father’s 70th birthday and a celebration of the first grandson. From there, the story, told in small bits by each of the girls and some other characters along the way, pieces together the events that shaped each daughter’s life in some way. Some are humorous, some are painful, some are shocking, but each gives a little insight as to how the girls came to be truly American and lost their roots along the way.

Why is this book a classic/bestseller?
It came out in the big push for minority literature in the early 90’s – which made it a big hit. Not to say it isn’t good, but there are better books out there.

Do you recommend I read this book?
Eh. I didn’t hate it but it wasn’t extraordinary.

How did this book make your list?
I saw the picture of the author on the back and her hair amazed me. Plus, I’d heard it was good.

Has it won any awards?
Nope.

Favorite quotes:
“Sandi studied the woman carefully. Why had Dr. Fanning, who was tall and somewhat handsome, married this plain, bucktoothed woman? Maybe she came from a good family, which back home was the reason men married plain, bucktoothed women. Maybe Mrs. Fanning came with all the jewelry she had on, and Dr. Fanning had been attracted by its glittering the way little fishes are if you wrap tinfoil on a string and dangle it in the shallows.” – p 178

Personal thoughts:
First off, the reverse chronological thing just threw me. I had a hard time understanding who was crazy when and when they were crazy, if it was really crazy or just stream of consciousness writing. And as with a lot of minority authors, I don’t see why they have to focus on only negative experiences. I’m sure the Garcia girls had a lot of good experiences which shaped them, but Alvarez chose only to focus on the negative. There was so much sexual content in this book, I’d almost feel uncomfortable classifying it as a young adult novel – which is what our library classifies it as. The book is set in the 60’s and 70’s, so there was rampant sex and drug use throughout the book. Every other story was about someone’s first time having sex or someone being molested – it got very old after a while.

One thing I did appreciate was how distinct each of the girls’ voices were. Even without being told who was talking, I probably could have picked out which daughter was telling which story. Even Chucha and Laura were distinct from all the rest. And Alvarez did a wonderful job of evolving the girls’ voices as they grew older. There was no doubt when a daughter was 10 as compared to when she was 25. I don’t think I would recommend this book to anyone but it wasn’t a horrible read.

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