Xiomara, Yahaira, Camino and Emoni: Elizabeth Acevedo’s Teen Girl Characters

Clap When You Land and With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Elizabeth Acevedo just does not miss!

There are a lot of YA novels about teen girls, but hers center them. It’s not that her main characters are perfectly active agents in control of their lives—just the opposite. Things happen to them that are outside their control. Probably more so because they are young Afro-Latinas. But we find out their reactions, plans and dreams and the way Acevedo writes these girls, they are in such good hands and I close the book feeling like, “They will be fine.” They are cared for, they know who they are, and they have mujeres in their lives who have their backs.

Her two books following The Poet X (2018) pulled so many emotions out of me. With the Fire on High (2019) made me want to be Emoni’s friend. She’s a teen mom who is passionate about cooking in her senior year of high school. I love the way Emoni talked about virginity. Tyrone, her baby daddy, was the first (and only) person she had sex with, yet everyone thinks she is a ho because she got pregnant.

There are so many details that gave the reader a sense of Emoni’s reality as a teen mom: doing her daughter’s hair before she goes to school; being able to sign permission slips for her daughter, but not for herself; and getting her phone confiscated because of school policy when she really needs it in case her daughter’s daycare needs her. These hassles show that she is a high school student at the same time that she is a mom, and she has so many responsibilities that she keeps to herself, which makes people think she is stuck-up.

But that’s ok because she has Abuela, Ms. Fuentes, Angelica and Malachi. I love how they support her even when she isn’t sure where she stands. I especially love Malachi, the transfer student who became her love interest. I love that he doesn’t judge or like her less for being a mom, and he doesn’t rush her into having sex, even though Emoni was fully prepared for that to be the case. [spoiler] When they were about to have sex on their culinary arts field trip to Spain, I LOVE how Malachi was a virgin and Emoni obviously was not! And they talked about it like adults, and it didn’t stop them from being attracted to and friends with each other.

On the other hand, masculinity was all the way toxic in Clap When You Land (2020). Camino and Yahaira never knew each other existed until their father died in a plane crash on his way to the Dominican Republic, where he had another family. The book is about the messy and painful aftermath of his death and the girls grieved. I had so many questions while reading this book and it really took me on a trip.

Like Camino and Yahaira, I had so many questions:

If you have two wives, do you love one let alone both of them? Yahaira’s mami told her that, he might have loved his wives, but his love for his children were not in question.

How do you grieve for someone who has lied to you your whole life? There isn’t an answer.

Just how much can a woman survive? I think Zoila, Yahaira’s mom and later, Camino’s stepmom, really stood out to be in her strength. At first, I thought having your husband not only cheat on you, but to start and raise a whole other family in your home country, for 16 years, would be like dying a slow death.

But Zoila surprised. Her character arc was amazing. She went from being a general’s only child, to a wife whose husband betrayed her in the worst way, to a widow, to the stepmom of the child of her husband and her friend.

I love how she had strengths that didn’t jump out until the times it mattered: She protected her stepdaughter, fiercely, even though just stepping foot on the island where her husband started a second family was excruciating for her. I also love how Camino and Yahaira slowly figured out who their mom is. Camino thought she was “una chica plastica” and Yahaira thought she was a “showpiece of a woman,” but she turned out to be a true matriarch.

The idea of a man fractured, and a family fractured, has been on my mind after reading The Bluest Eye. The pain, grief and utter sadness is also palpable here. Some reviews said the language in this book felt bruised, raw and wounded and they are absolutely right. My chest literally hurt thinking about what Zoila, Tia, and even Camino’s mom, and the girls must have gone through.

But I think I was wrong to be angry at Yano for being a womanizer. The book isn’t about him. It’s about the women healing (Tia and Camino), defending (Zoila) and making moves (Yahaira) in the absence of him.

And that is just so beautiful.

Far away and so close

These were the books I read right before school started. I think books really speak to different parts about me. For example, I want to go camping and fishing. I’m interested in modern Asian history. I support Asian American authors! I found Front Desk really inspiring as I was starting a new job.

Mia wrote a letter to persuade motel owners why she should win the motel. She told them

  1. I know what I’m doing.
  2. I love what I’m doing.
  3. I won’t let you down.

That is all an employer or even a partner ever needs to know. Mia is an inspiration to me because I want to go about whatever I do the same way. Thank you Kelly Yang fir writing this book! I am so glad you wrote it and we all have the chance to stand by Mia.

Diversity in kid lit

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On a recent trip to the library I happened to see many of the books on my to-read list on the shelves. The theme this time is diversity! All of these books are about a culture/time different from mine. It was nice to read them together. There are picture books, poetry, and chapter books too.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena – I think this was a fine book but there are many more deserving books for the Coretta Scott King and Newbery Medal. It wasn’t even the strongest one among these five books. I guess that goes to show more diverse books need to be read and recognized.

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate – I read this within 3 hours and I loved it. It is a little like The Wild Robot and Pax because it reads like a fable. Very allegorical! It was uniquely told from a tree’s point of view. I loved the tree’s flashbacks and how everything connects.

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser – I’ve wanted to read this book for a while and am so glad I finally found it. I think I am into family novels lately. It’s cozy to read books about big families and I love how the hustle and bustle of New York City came through in this story.

Yagua Days by Cruz Martel – I read this book because my mentor mentioned it. She said it had “weird words” that students could figure out using context clues 😛 . Indeed it does! It had a lot of Spanish words but also words that are unusual even in Spanish. I love the illustrations in this book. Here’s to yagua days in our future.

Caminar by Skila Brown – I think this might be my favorite. It is a historical novel-in-verse, set in a context I have never read about. It’s about the Guatemalan Civil War from 1960-1996. It didn’t feel foreign at all because it is told from the point of view of one boy, who became a man, and his decision. Caminar means “to walk” in Spanish, the the reader walks with Carlos over the course of the book. I think the epilogue is the most personal part of the book. I love how years later, when Carlos has a daughter, he saw Flora and remembers. I wonder what it must feel to have an experience like war or other trauma in your past, and to be decades removed from it yet still hold it close in the your heart. I am so so glad I got a chance to read this. Thank you Skila Brown!

Cozy fantasies

I loved every book in here, a lot!!!!!!! I think this might be the coziest group of books I’ve read.

Ling & Ting: Together in All Weather – It’s Grace Lin, so obviously I am a fan! I loved that she dedicated this book to her husband. Ling and Ting are always up to something and their episodes are always a treat. Here’s to the people with us in all weather ❤ .

5 Centimeters per Second – I cried reading this and I should’ve guessed I would. It is just like life to move too quickly and to pull people apart. I feel like both Tohno and Akari because I live in the present, but there is someone as important to be as Akari was to Tohno. I love Kanae too. I just want all the characters to find love and happiness. What a beautiful manga!

Neruda’s Book of Questions – I loved Pablo Neruda’s work ever since I read The Dreamer, which is about his childhood. He sure is a dreamer!!! He thinks of things we would never ever think of. His questions in 10 words can say so much than 50 words could. What a powerful and unique book.

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus– This was a great book for kids and adults alike! Dusti Bowling is a future awards winner. Aven is my inspiration.

Everything on a Waffle – I adored this book! It is short and sweet, and I made the tuna noodle casserole from the recipes inside. It’s like Pushing Daisies, sort of.

I Am Pusheen the Cat – I read this while I was eating breakfast at a Taiwanese cafe. It’s Four Seas! after I came back from Knott’s. This was probably the most fun day I had this year before the hectic work schedule started 😦 .

I loved all the books here!

Imagination

Where the Sidewalk Ends – Shel Silverstein is probably a genius. His poems are just so wacky and don’t make sense!

Christmas in Camelot – It’s the holidays and I wanted to read The Magic Tree House, so why not Christmas in Camelot! I love fantasy and time travel so this was a fun trip.

A Pizza the Size of the Sun – Another wacky book from a poet for children. This was very fun and if I had a 1st grade class I would love to read it to them.

Stage Fright on a Summer Night – I loved this too because it reminds me of my HS English class. I want a Magic Tree House version of the Shakespeare plays! Jack and Annie in Othello, please.

Blizzard of the Blue Moon – I love that this was based in NYC! It’s wonderful and it reminds me of Wonderstruck too since it’s the same time period. It makes me want to go to NYC for New Year’s but I would freeze :O .

The Little Book of Hygge – Okay this made me want to live cozily forever, but at this particular time in my life it’s very hard to be cozy 😦 . I want a cozy home and comfy everything! Wool and soft stuff every where.