Far from Gringo Land
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon October 27, 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
FAR FROM GRINGO LAND, while sufficient as a story, shines most in the category of cultural contrasts. In fact, I see it as more useful to Spanish teachers than English teachers. Why? For one, author Edward Myers embeds plenty of Spanish -- most of it followed by its English translation. Also, Myers gives us a sensitive portrayal of the Mexicans' viewpoint. Using the device of an American boy named Rick who spends a summer with friends of his parents' in Mexico in order to help them build an obra (a house construction project), Myers shows how naive Americans can be about their neighbors to the South. Sharp differences in wealth are the key ingredient to misunderstandings, but other issues surface around pride, social mores, and even "illegal immigration" (as seen from the impoverished Mexicans' side, that is).

Though simply written, this earnest book will not sweep reluctant readers up out of the gate. It has a slow, deliberate pace with few surprises and little if any climax. Instead, you gradually get to know the Romero family -- Rick's hosts -- and learn to appreciate their simplicity and kindness. Also featured are members of the Romeros' extended family and a love interest for Rick -- a rich American girl living in a wealthy gated community in a separate section of Santo Domingo.

If you're willing to be patient and interested in Mexican-American dynamics, you will eventually be rewarded for your patience. If the plot's the thing for you as a reader, on the other hand, you might want to pass on this book as its merits will be lost on you. Take stock of your own preferences, then, and proceed accordingly.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
FAR FROM GRINGO LAND - the cool title is what initially sold it for me - is another good YA read from Edward Myers, and this one based on past experiences in his youth. The fish-out-of-water plot centers around 17-year-old Colorado kid Rick Dresner who spends his summer vacation in the barrio on the hills of Santo Domingo, Mexico helping a struggling family, the Romeros, build a house.

Rick's been itching for a grand adventure and he thinks this is it. He's been working out in the school gym to build up muscle and had been taking Spanish lessons for years. But in Santo Domingo Rick finds himself unprepared for the cultural differences, the language barrier (because school-taught Spanish ain't the same as the stuff spoken on the street), and the resentment he faces as a privileged gringo looking to fit in in a poverty-stricken neighborhood.

La obra - the construction project - doesn't quite go as smoothly as planned, what with the lack of manpower, shortage of funding for supplies, and the rainy season effing things up. Rick misjudges the sheer demanding nature of the manual labor involved. On top of it all, he fancies a wealthy American girl living on the wrong side of town (the wrong side, in this instance, being San Domingo's more posh and gated community). It's not too long before Rick is second-guessing his "grand adventure."

Being a slice of life kind of book, FAR FROM GRINGO LAND unfolds at a leisurely pace, and reading it feels like one long easy afternoon spent on the hammock. Thing is, there isn't much suspense in the story. Our teen Rick Dresner has pretty much got his act together, irregardless of aching muscles and awkward conversational moments and the occasional misunderstanding. He adjusts fairly easily to the simplicity of life in Santo Domingo and the Romeros are a nice bunch of folks. One interesting moment has Rick mentioning an annoying pet bird to the woman of the house, Emiliana. Later he notices that the bird cage is now empty, and a worrying realization strikes him. The Romeros may be poor, but they are proud and don't stinge on hospitality. Rick really begins to fret about how any tiny innocent remark of his may inconvenience the Romeros, may cause them to sacrifice even more so that their guest can feel more at home. The book is peppered with other poignant little moments, and you can see how this is a coming-of-age story. Nothing "big" happens, the most momentous event is probably the completion of the colado - the roof.

It's an honest look at social and cultural differences, and it's even a thought-provoking one. This book does leave an impression, although I feel that it won't be as lasting as, say, Andrew Clements' YA books. But I like reading about Rick striving to bridge the gap. I like reading about the Romeros, reading about their resigned philosophy of working hard and expecting no freebies in life and also their bottom-line perception of illegal immigration (which is, basically, "we need the work and so we go"). The book doesn't really climax as much as it just ends. La obra gets finished and Rick goes back home to Colorado and seems to just shrug off his time in Mexico as whatever. Not to mention, one plot point comes to a really abrupt and unsatisfying resolution. The book's strength lies in the day-in-the-life vibe which marks Rick's acclimation to Santo Domingo and details the progress of la obra. Ultimately, FAR FROM GRINGO LAND is a good read, and some props to Edward Myers for writing something which attempts to shed further awareness on the living conditions in Mexico.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 6, 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Much like the author and the main character of "Far From Gringo Land", I have also spent time building homes for poor families in Mexico, so i was excited at the prospect of reading a book that talked of an experience similar to the difficult and life altering one that I had. I respect the author for shedding light on our impoverished neighbors to the South, and i think more teens should be aware of how rich we Americans really are, and take the opportunities to share that wealth with those who are far less fortunate. So for those reasons, this book has some value and it may teach readers a few things to broaden their worldview.

However, no matter how great an idea is, if it is not executed well, it falls flat. Which is the case with this unfortunate novel. My biggest gripe with "Gringo Land" is the tense of the writing. The author wrote it in (i believe) the simple perfect tense, which sounds like someone talking in a detached third-person style (Rick likes beans. Rick feels sad. Rick kicks the rock. You get the picture). It made the writing feel cold and textbook-ish. I think, given that it's written in choppy little sections, and often discusses the main characters emotions and thoughts, that had it been written in first person past tense, it would have read more like a memoir and felt more authentic. The author would have had a better stage to explore all the emotions that come with this kind of adventure, and the ramifications of the story's events. It would not have felt as stilted and scripted. It would have resonated more with readers and touched them in a more relateable way.

The other big issue I have with "Far From Gringo Land" is that I was astonished at what the author seems to think a Mexican "barrio" is. The Romeros have running water! The Romeros have three rooms and they're made out of brick! The TRUE barrios of Mexico (sometimes called Colonias) are far worse, far scarier, far more horrifying than what Myers describes in his book. The true barrios are hundreds of thousands of little shacks that are built out of scrap materials, often just old garage doors nailed together. They are all set on narrow dirt roads that turn in to absolute mud pits when the rains begin, and they are often teetering over sewage ditches or crumbly cliffs. The only water they get is delivered in a truck once a week. They share their usually one room "homes" with their multitudes of children and elders, and share out-houses (or sometimes just a hole in the ground or the side of a ditch) with their neighbors. Gangs are every where, practically recruiting children as soon as they can walk. I could write on and on about the deplorable living conditions that these poor people live in, but the only way to really know it is to see it with your own eyes; I think it's something every American should see. I know that the author wrote his novel based on his own personal experience, so maybe he hasn't been to the truly bad areas of Mexico, but i think if the author had written a more accurate description of what the true barrios are like it would have been much more impactful.

So once again, another book that had such great potential but fell greatly short. What a disappointment.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 3, 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The summer after his junior year of high school, Rick Dresner goes to Mexico for the summer. In a sort of private exchange program, he's going to stay with old family friends, help them build their house, and become fluent in Spanish.

All those things happen more or less as expected. But Rick doesn't know he'll be working each day until he's about ready to drop. He can't anticipate the conflicts that his relative wealth and privilege will create. And then he meets a rich, pretty American girl whose family has a very different attitude toward life in Mexico.

This is a thoughtful, well-written book. There's something missing, though -- passion, maybe. There's a sense of distance from the action throughout the book, maybe because the author based it on his own long-ago experiences as a teen in Mexico. Rick cares about his friends, he wants to do the right thing, and mostly he does. "Far From Gringo Land" might have been a more powerful book if the author had allowed his hero to screw up a little more.

Still, it's a good read and a strong portrait of an outsider in a privileged position. Maybe Edward Myers' next book will tell the same story from the point of view of Rick's Mexican friend Francisco. I'd love to know his story, too.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 2, 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book has a really intriguing premise: a teenage boy spends the summer living with a family in Mexico, helping them to build a house. The manual labor is harder than anything he's ever experienced and there are cultural differences as well. He feels awkward because he has money to pay for things that they can't afford -- even though in the US, he is from a middle-class family.

This book was okay. I enjoyed learning about the culture and what life is like in Mexico. I found the procedures needed to build the house interesting and I liked learning the language . . . though in parts hearing the Spanish and then the English translation dragged the story down a bit. But something was missing for me . . . I think the problem was that the book really didn't have a teen voice. Also, nothing much every really happens to Rick. He has to work hard but really he handles everything just fine. This would have been more compelling if he had to struggle more. He doesn't even seem that heartbroken when he has to stop seeing the girl he likes.

I think teens, like me, will be attracted by the idea of this book . . . just not sure they'll stick with it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Edward Myers has produced a literary work of eye-opening proportions. "Far from Gringo Land" stirs your heart and mind as it follows a young man coming into his own on an adventure in the truths and justice of multiple cultures far from home. Rick Dresner finds himself in the barrios of Mexico (by choice), working like a donkey, finding a new family, struggling with his own life choices, and falling for a girl who is trying to do the same. This book is an excellent and stunning example of the conflicting emotional, cultural, and physical differences in the lifestyle of Americans and Mexicans in their perspective countries. This book will do well in middle school and high school classrooms as a unique Language Arts, social studies, and cultural learning tool. Highly recommended!
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Rick jumps at the opportunity to spend his seventeenth summer in a Mexican barrio. He'll be able to improve his Spanish, live with family friends, and help them build a real house on their property. He's confident that he will learn a lot about life in a completely different culture.

He learns quickly that the Romeros are a struggling family who put their guest as their priority even if it means they go without. He doesn't even mind being called a "gringo" by the locals.

The construction project quickly turns out to be the hardest thing Rick has ever done in more ways than one. Physically, he's never been so tired and sore in his life. The family has invested all their time and money to create a home and it seems like they are running out of both. Will they be able to finish it before the rainy season?

Rick spends what little free time he has with Ellen, an American who is vacationing at her father's elaborate home. It seems worlds away from the barrio. They meet secretly for a while, and once Rick introduces her to his new "family", the cultural and social differences seem like an elephant in the room. Can they get past these to truly get to know each other?

This was a wonderful book. I highly recommend it!

Reviewed by: hoopsielv
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The summer between your last year of high school and your
first year of college can be filled with new experiences.
But for Rick Dresner, it will become life-changing.
Traversing the border between the United States and Mexico,
this Colorado native immerses himself in a new culture
while helping family friends, the Romeros, build a house.
Unexpected challenges await him though. Cultural
differences shock his brain and readers are engaged in
pondering differences not usually thought of. For those
looking for an eye-opening read or just a good book, this
is one to be sure and pick up.

This book really got me thinking. What are the differences
between American culture and the cultures of other countries?
It was quite a shocker for me, a pet-lover, to find out that animals
are not kept as pets unless they perform services like being a watchdog.
But despite the shocks, this book was an engaging read,
drawing me farther and farther into Rick's trip to Mexico.
I was satisfied with what I read and have learned a lot. I
encourage all readers who are interested in foreign
countries to give this book a look.

Reviewed by a young adult student reviewer
Flamingnet Book Reviews
Teen books reviewed by teen reviewers
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on December 27, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Maybe the quirky title was enough to draw my attention to this book. I got this book not long after my Christmas 2009 Mexico trip, and I could quickly relate to the protagonist's reactions to unfamiliar territory.

The book started out strongly, but I kept finding myself coming back less and less to read further. The story kind of stagnates in the middle, and needless to say I never finished the book. One problem is that it is definitely aimed at an adolescent audience.

I appreciate the author's attempt, but it wasn't quite engaging enough for me. However, if I were to go back to teaching English (I'm teaching Math right now), I could see myself assigning this book for middle school or early-high school students to read; I think it would open up their perspectives a little bit. I do think this book would be good for that audience, but if you're an adult considering reading this, you may want to look elsewhere.
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Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Edward Myers' effort in "Far from Gringo Land" should be required reading for student in Spanish. Why? It's an excellent insight into the views that people living in the North (The U.S or Los Estados Unidos - if you prefer) and Mexico may share (or may not). Fairly accurately, I might add.

With the interaction that Richard has with the Romeros' family, he deals with issues of language, custom and family. While growing up, to boot! I'll not give the story away. You (or a teenager you know) should obtain this book and read on...

I rate this excellent book: Five stas!!
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