My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book was so, so, so, so, so wonderful. I will have coherent thoughts soon…
And my coherent thoughts are here!
Ebullient and joyful, this middle grade novel based on the author’s early life as a Cuban immigrant in NY was an absolute delight. I wish this book had existed at some point in my childhood. It would have helped me accept myself and my culture a little better at a time I was questioning it.
To begin with, Behar narrated the audiobook, which makes her a multi-hyphenate talent. Not only did she write this delightful story, but she narrated it with care and comfort. Her voice is beautiful. While her voice was not that of a child, it wasn’t a condescending adult voice narrating a children’s story. You could tell this was read from the heart and I very highly recommend this audiobook.
This story was also told from the heart and with her entire heart. It is, after all, an account of Behar’s childhood accident and it’s as authentic as it gets. I love that Behar incorporated some very special phrases, meanings and products into her story that many Cuban immigrants of a certain generation would identify with. When she brought up Maja soaps, I almost teared up because I could conjure the smell my childhood baby sittter who kept those very soaps in her drawers to make her clothing smell better. There was also the reference to Old Spice which was paramount for all men dressed up to go out. I also loved the role that food played in certain scenes, especially in the family preparing meals together and getting excited to contribute to a meal. She also used some Cuban slang that I generally don’t hear outside of my family and explained the meaning for young readers. Shout out to all the bo bos out here!
You could also feel Behar’s longing for and fear of Cuba. “…Castro. The name of the many who stole their country from them.” My family came here almost 50 years ago and this feeling is as timely and urgent and present as it was the day they arrived.
I also loved her sense of time and place–1960’s New York was a beautiful supporting character, even if Ruthie couldn’t get out much after the accident. And I loved the way that Ruthie’s world grew once she was unable to leave her house–so unexpected and challenging. Chicho’s (I grew up with a Chicho in my neighborhood!) friendship with Ruthie was so loving and nurturing. You can see the seeds being planted of Ruthie being a writer and artist. Behar realistically portrayed what life would be like in a body cast–no euphemisms here! The scenes where Ruthie’s mother made her eat and go to the bathroom and bathe were so real, you would have thought Behar was transposing videos of her own interactions with her mother. I will also note that Behar captured the Cuban male machismo very eloquently and accurately. If you ever experienced this, you will identify with (and want to yell at) those scenes with Ruthie’s father.
Finally, I will also mention that Ruthie and her family are Jewish. I love how the multicultural and religious heritage were featured and even though I am Cuban, I learned something new about the people of that immigrated to the island. It’s not something I ever heard about growing up.
Obviously, I loved this book for personal reasons, but if you are looking to teach empathy and make a child who feels unwelcome feel like they belong, Lucky Broken Girl is pitch perfect in every which way.