The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez by Alan Lawrence Sitomer
Total: Four stars
Summary from Amazon:
Sonia Rodriguez was born in the United States, but her parents are Mexican immigrants who came to California before she was born.
Her father has three Social Security numbers, her mother is pregnant (again), and neither of them speaks English. Sonia's mother spends most of her time in bed, watching soap operas, and letting Sonia clean up after her brothers. Sonia's father works dutifully to support his family, but he knows that his daughter's dreams are bigger than making tamales for family get-togethers.
When Sonia attempts to put school work before her familia, her mother decides that it's time for Sonia to visit her grandmother in Mexico to learn "the ways of the old world." While in Mexico, Sonia spends time with her wise grandmother and her cousin Maria who teach her that while familia is important, the most important thing is to follow your heart.
Sonia returns to the States determined to succeed in school, but the birth of her new twin siblings, inappropriate advances from her drunk uncle ("Drunkle"), and a forbidden relationship with an El Salvadorian boy push school to the back burner. If only Sonia can find the time to cook dinner, secretly meet with her boyfriend, avoid her Drunkle, AND finish her homework, she just might be able to graduate from high school...
Wow, that book was good. It's probably the most thought-provoking, intelligent book I've read in a long while. For one, even though I can't directly identify with any of Sonia's problems, the way she deals with them are so realistic, it felt like I was reading one of those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure stories.
Also, Sonia is a great character for teens to look up to. She works hard for what she wants, but she knows when to put others before herself. She follows her heart and it leads her well.
I'll admit: it felt like the ending was too perfect for a book full of hardships, but it never felt forced and I was rooting for Sonia all the way. Sometimes Sonia's bitter humour gets tedious, but it contrasts well with her stark situation.
My only wish is that the plot flowed differently. It felt like it took a long time for things to get moving in the beginning and Sonia's trip seems to be over before it's begun - which wouldn't be a bad thing, necessarily, but it seems to be a big part of the summary so I expected it to be longer.
I'd definitely recommend this - to you and your younger sister. Even if the content is kind of gritty, most twelve-year-olds know about sex, drugs, and violence from the name-dropping pages of Gossip Girl anyway, so why not do it with better writing and actual plot?