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Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx Hardcover – August 25, 2015

4.2 out of 5 stars 50 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up—A groundbreaking Latina educator, TV personality, and award-winning children's book author shares a poignantly written memoir about growing up in the South Bronx. Manzano, known to many as Maria from Sesame Street, relates events from her youth with candor and childlike curiosity as she tries to find her place within her Puerto Rican family and the dominant white culture. Beginning with fragments from when she was a toddler and ending with her life-changing audition for Sesame Street, the book includes vignettes that offer glimpses of a singular coming of age that will resonate with many young people, regardless of socioeconomic background or culture. Moving from a cockroach-infested apartment to one riddled with rats was a common occurrence, and her father's violent outbursts continually threatened the safety of the family. Still, music, laughter, food, a network of cousins and friends, and a love of performance shone a light in Sonia's life, and glimmers of the beloved character she made iconic peek through the trials of an impoverished but warm upbringing. Phrases in Spanish and gritty details of urban life in 1960s New York City add authenticity to this work. Nuanced depictions of racism and sexism will be eye-opening for some readers and all-too-familiar for others. The author shows great restraint, never tinging memories with adult rationalizations or nostalgia, but infuses each episode with age-appropriate language and forthrightness. Lyrical passages, such as one about her first trip to Puerto Rico, are filled with vivid imagery, and the scenes touching upon her burgeoning sexual awakening ring true with sensitivity and subtlety. VERDICT As timeless as Esmeralda Santiago's When I Was a Puerto Rican (Vintage, 1994) and Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming (Penguin, 2014), this memoir will strike a chord with teens and adults alike. [See the Q&A with Sonia Manzano on page 16.—Ed.]—Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal


Praise for Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx :

* "In stark and heartbreaking contrast to her Sesame Street character, Manzano paints a poignant, startlingly honest picture of her youth." -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review

* "As timeless as Esmeralda Santiago’s When I Was a Puerto Rican and Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, this memoir will strike a chord with teens and adults alike." -- School Library Journal, starred review

Praise for The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano :

* “This wry, moving debut novel does a great job of blending the personal and the political. . . while the family drama and revelations continue right up to the end.”-- Booklist, starred review

* “Characters of surprising dimension round out the plot and add to the novel's cultural authenticity. . . A stunning debut.”-- Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Celebrity Endorsements:

“This novel is meant to be savored in delicious bites. I loved its snap and down-home-El Barrio-in-your-face-tell-it-like-it-is tone.” -- Oscar Hijuelos, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love

The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano should be placed on proud display with the literature that enriches our multicultural America. History will come alive for young readers who will identify with how a great historic moment can affect one girl and her family.” -- Julia Alvarez, Pura Belpré Award-winning author of Before We Were Free and How the García Girls Lost Their Accents

“I love this book! It's smart, real, painfully funny, and filled with the wisdom of a writer who can get to the hearts and souls of her readers. Sonia Manzano, standing ovation! (Encore, please!)” -- John Leguizamo, Emmy Award winning actor-comedian.

"An important story about activism, acceptance, and love.Sonia Manzano vividly portrays a neighborhood in turmoil, with embraceable characters who change history." -- Pam Muñoz Ryan, Pura Belpré Award-winning author of The Dreamer and Esperanza Rising

The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano underscores the struggle that triumphed in the lives of Latinos. Here is a book that creates indelible political awareness.” -- Nicholasa Mohr, National Book Award Finalist, author of El Bronx Remembered

“Thank you, Sonia Manzano, for capturing important moments for Puerto Ricans, and for reminding us that history doesn't just happen, we live with it and with its consequences.” -- Esmeralda Santiago, Alex Award-winning author of Almost a Woman and When I was Puerto Rican

Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 910 (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press (August 25, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0545621844
  • ISBN-13: 978-0545621847
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #175,113 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kathy Cunningham TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 8, 2015
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Sonia Manzano's memoir, BECOMING MARIA, is a deeply touching, often troubling account of a young Puerto Rican girl growing up in the South Bronx in the 1950's and `60's. Sonia Manzano is best known for her 44-year-long portrayal of the character "Maria" on the TV show "Sesame Street," and this book's title suggests it will reveal how Sonia became Maria. But since "Sesame Street" is mentioned only briefly in the book's final pages (and there is no mention of "Maria" at all), I feel the title is misleading. This isn't a book about how Sonia Manzano became the beloved star of a much-loved children's television program. It's a book about how difficult it is to live in this country when you're neither white nor rich nor lucky.

BECOMING MARIA is told from Sonia's perspective, beginning when she is still in diapers and ending when she's a twenty-year-old Carnegie Mellon student starring in the first run of "Godspell." Life in the South Bronx, where Sonia lived with her drunken, abusive father, her long-suffering mother, her half-sister, and her two brothers, was punctuated by poverty and heartache. The first part of the story - titled "Fragments" - chronicles the first ten years of Sonia's life through a series of vignettes and memories. And many of them are very difficult to read. This is a little girl without an identity, convinced that a life of squalor (complete with roach-infested apartments, pregnancy at fifteen, and drunken violence) is all she has to look forward to. In fact, at one point her mother tells young Sonia this story: "A woman lives with her four children in Crotona Park in the winter and her husband beats her and beats her until her children grow up and save her. The end.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In this very well-written and compelling memoir, two things stood out for me. One is Manzano's amazing ability to truly see past events through the filter of being the age she was when they happened. Maybe this was honed by years on Sesame Street. When she remembers events when she was very little, the details are confused, the cast seems to drift in and out, as early memories are. As she gets older, such as in high school, she relates events as she would have understood them at the time, not with the revisionist view many writers take.

The other element I very much liked is Manzono's refusal to glorify things just because they were part of her culture. This isn't a Puerto Rican memoir (Manzano did not set foot in Puerto Rico until she was well past early childhood) but a personal memoir. She is brutally honest about her parent's abusive marriage, and doesn't ever give us the easy way out of viewing it as part of a culture. A scene the struck me as very unusual in memoirs is when she took a close neighborhood friend to a party with people from her magnet performing arts high school. Afterward, her high school friends commented the girl wasn't too bright. Manzano later had a conversation with the friend, Vanessa, and concluded the high school friends were right. In the politically correct memoir world, she would have realized the neighborhood friend was "smart in her own way" and the high school friends were wrong. I loved it that that didn't have to be the case here.

This is not a sanitized, child-friendly view of the world, so if you are troubled by strong language or content, and are looking for a tale with much about Sesame Street, look elsewhere. But if you like honest memoir writing, you can't go wrong here.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
How fun that Sonia Manzano has written a book that tells part of her story about becoming Maria, the character she played - the character she became - on Sesame Street for all those wonderful years.

"Fragments," Part I of the three sections of this autobiographical memoir was slower than cold molasses, not at all colorful or evocative, and ideally would have been much better presented as a series of Sesame-Street style video segments. But this is a book that's almost in print (Amazon Vine sent me an advance reader copy) without an option for video embedded in the pages. In fact, it was so dull, despite being quite compulsive about reading almost every page, paragraph and word of most books, I seriously considered not finishing the book and posting a 2-star review.

In spite of myself I kept reading, and Part II, La Lucha or The Struggle, suddenly takes off while Maria gets older, comes of age, moves out of her South Bronx environment and brings her readers along with her, her acquaintances, and her friends. III, The Beginning, is full of social, geographical, and psychological movement, with details about Sonia's personal and emerging professional growth. Becoming Maria grew into a book I was reluctant to put down, that I even read into the night (unheard of for me), and wished it hadn't ended with Sonia's Sesame Street audition/interview. We know the rest of the story? We've watched a whole lot of Sesame Street so we sort of know the rest of the story, but I'd still love a sequel.

PS I hadn't realized Godspell originally was improv! Given the style of every production I've ever seen, that makes sense to me.
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