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Parrot in the Oven: Mi vida
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
It's hard to review a book that fairly reeks of excellent prose. When you encounter a really GOOD writer, the temptation is to read the pretty words and pay little to no attention to the plot. Victor Martinez fits this category perfectly. Reading, "Parrot in the Oven" is difficult if only because the descriptions in the story are pitch perfect every time. I found myself so continually overwhelmed by the lush characters and interesting metaphors that I would completely forget to pay attention to the narrative and plot. Fortunately, in the case of this particular book, they were perfectly up to snuff.

The tale follows the life and realistic adventures of Mexican-American Manuel Hernandez. Manuel's a good kid. He has a slacker older brother, an older sister that flirts with danger, and a baby sibling that doesn't understand the ways of the world just yet. His father is unemployed leaving him regularly drunk and belligerent. His mother, not quite up to facing the problems surrounding her, stays by his side despite the effects of his actions on the kids. But mostly this is Manny's story. It's a look at a sometimes painful adolescence and the world of classism and racism in which everyone lives. That and it's a beautiful read.

I'll give you a taste of what I'm talking about. For example, after doing painful yard work with his brother the book reads, "When we stopped, finally, the sun was prickling like a hot rash on the back of my neck, and a piece of lava was wedged in my spine. My brother's face was swollen and burnished as a new penny". Another favorite passage of mine speaks of Manny's sister's friend. "She was in love with Nardo, but he didn't pay her any mind, mostly because blocks of fat sagged on her hips like a belt of thick Bibles". Descriptions like these don't appear out of thin air. It takes a skilled eye with a sense of humor to come up with such passages.

As I mentioned before, it would have been easy for Martinez to rest on his descriptive selections and pay little or no attention to character development and plot. Fortunately, this is not the case. While the plot is less a single tale of a boy becoming a man and more a series of significant vignettes in that boy's life, it still is a stunning piece of work. There are elements of painful realism in this tale, such as Manny's father attempting to shoot his mother in a drunken stupor and his mom defending that same husband to the police moments later. Characters act stupidly, nobly, or a little bit of both from time to time. The best way to determine how well you'll understand this story is to read the first chapter. If you finish it and don't feel that the author is monumentally gifted, you may as well move on and not bother with the rest of the book. Yet I'm confident when I say that people who don't recognize this book's beauty will be few and far between.

Great writing deserves a great audience. As it is, "Parrot in the Oven" is supposedly a teen novel. Don't let that discourage you (especially if you're a teen). The book is just as deeply satisfying and wonderfully written as any adult book out there today. After all, they say that if "Catcher in the Rye" was written today it would be published as a teen novel. If you're looking for a book that will wow you with its prose, this is the tale to purchase. A stunning and honest accomplishment.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 15, 2007
Format: Paperback
Manuel is fourteen years old and living close to the Mexican border. He is Mexican-American himself. His life is full of conflicts, from his father who is alcoholic and abusive and can't seem to keep a job, to his passive mother who lets herself be scared and abused, to his three siblings.

This books is about Manuel's struggle to find himself and to figure out his life. It takes the reader on a journey through about a year in Manuel's life, and we get to see the things he interacts with daily, from his family situation to the bullies who live on his street, to the other people who surround him. Even though he sometimes has problems, like when he is invited to a party full of all white kids and things start to go bad, Manuel always manages to keep his head on his shoulders and get through things okay. Even though his family is dysfunctional, the reader is able to see some good in them.

The language in this book is beautiful; the author has a gift for stringing together very poetic sentences. However, there wasn't any sort of cohesive storyline. I kept trying to wrestle the individual parts of the story into a plot, and was frustrated when they remained disjointed until the end.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2001
Format: Paperback
Manny Hernandez is a fourteen-year-old boy who is struggling in life to become someone. As hard as he tries it's hard for him because he has to live with an alcoholic father, worried mother, annoying sister and his older brother who can't get a job anywhere (and when he does get a job he loses it instantly). In Manny's neighborhood it's not easy to become someone, especially if you're a good kid like Manny. In the neighborhood he lives in you have to be in a gang to be known. The gangs around there are serious law breaking gangs. Most of the kids in the gangs steal old ladies purses, rob grocery stores, and steal cars. Manny is more of a nice guy that would never hurt a fly (not really gang material).
In this story Manny has to experience many stressful events. Manny is beat up by kids at school, his sister is having problems with her pregnancy that none knows about, his mother worries about his dad and the family all the time, and both his brother and father are gone from the house day and night drinking. Over time Manny learns to deal with these events but not easily. Manny tries many different solutions. He tried joining the boxing team but that didn't work, he tried hanging out with older kids to try to make new friends but that didn't work and he tried to join a gang but that was the worst of them all. I will let you find out what happens to Manny yourselves. Enjoy!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Victor Martinez's Parrot in the Oven, was in my opinion, one of the most inspiring books I have ever read. Its not a book that demands a great amount of intelligence from the reader because it is written in a form that can be read by a wide range of ages, but the story is truly genuine. It focuses on the life of Manuel Hernandez and his family's struggle with problems such as a racism, poverty, and violence. Forteen year old Manuel, often called "Manny", has an older brother, Bernardo, often referred to as "Nardo", an older sister, Magda, and a younger sister Pedi. They live in the projects, constantly avoiding people such as the Garcia family, who are almost always up-to-no-good. Manuel's father can't keep a job, much like his son Bernardo. His father spends most of his free time at Rico's Pool Hall intoxicating himself into an angry stooper, only to return to his home, occasionally reulting in abusive behavior. Manuel's mother tries so hard to maintain a clean, and socially acceptable home, but her continuous arguments with her husband, as well as Magda's lack for respect and responsibility, manage to keep her stress level high, and the thought of true happiness inconceivable. Manuel desperately wants to be respected, but what he really wants is to be loved, especially by a girl. He once said, "Just thinking about telling a girl I liked her clamped the muscles on my chest and made my lungs pull hard to catch a breath." Eventually, Manuel gave up the idea that he would ever be "smooth" with girls and decides to join a gang in hopes of being allowed to kiss a girl in the gang. He kisses the girl, but later realizes that he doesn't really need to belong to a gang. In the end, Manuel realized what he has had the entire time, a home. He sits in his house, watching his sisters sleep peacefully on the couch and he knows, for the first time, that his is where he is supposed to be. He is at home. This book made me realize how much I personally, neglect the things and people that I love. I realize now, how much I take for granted. I not too, walk into my house and feel like it is where I belong more than any other place in the world. There, I have a family that I love and that loves me in return. I knew that before I read this book, but Parrot in the Oven made me appreciate my home and the fact that I am loved even more than in the past. I would recommend this book to anyone who occationally takes their life for granted.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2002
Format: Audio Cassette
One of the most enjoyable things about reading Victor Martinez book A Parrot in the Oven was how well the author related to topics taking place in the real word. As I read is novel, I came across some topics that might not be appropriate for children under the age of fourteen to read. I feel as a reader as well as a parent, I should express my concerns about this novel for younger readers.
A Parrot in the Oven is about Chicano family of five that is struggling to make ends meet. It is a very stereo typical novel from the stand point that all Chicano's live in the projects, are uneducated, unemployed, have little to no income, on welfare and increasing the number of family members on a regular basis. Through my readings, I have found a few topics that I would like to caution parents,teachers and younger reader about. The topic consist of: abuse from the stand point of mental, physical, and verbal;gang involvement;sexual content in regards to attraction, pregnancy, and unprotected sex and violence.
The narrator of the novel is fourteen year old Manny, who is trying to survive his family's life style and all that life has to offer him. Manny's father is very mentally and physically abusive to himself, Manny and his wife. Manny's father is an alcoholic who allows his drinking to get the best of him. The way his character is portrayed his drinking allows the reader accept his behavior as being noraml. With his drinking problem, he would fill with rage and never gave a second thought about the consequences that would follow his actions. Everything in life has a consequence that follows an action no matter if its good or bad. An example of the father's abusive behavior would be when he attempted to take the life of his wife with a gun because he couldn't deal with the embarrassment she cause in front of his friends at his usual drinking hang out. Manny's mother was just as abusive with her graphic language and how she was to physically hit one of the children. It seemed that she was taking her anger out on the children that had been building up form the fathers behavior. Shen never had much schooling and the father didn't feel that education was important. he felt atht is was necessary to work at a young age to help support the family even though he wasn't working himself. Manny's parents chose to use a very relaxed parenting style and each had their own issues to overcome.
Manny didn't have a great relationship with his family members, but he seemed to admire his older brother Nardo. He would always reflect on how lazy his brother was, but hs admired his strength and courage. Manny never really had a positive role model that provided him with any stability. At one point, a teacher wanted to help Manny. He gave Manny money and a ride home that brought embarrassment to his family and angered his father because he was white. Manny was not a leader, he was a follower and wanted to belong to the popular crowd just like any normal teenager. Yet, there was always something blocking his path the popularity. manny's solution to that problem was to join a gang. Through the joining of the gang he would gain friendships, power and a sexual experience. Manny found out overtime that he wasn't gang member material and had no desire to bond with the group.
While in school Manny developed an attraction for one of the teachers at the high school he was attending. He would always talk to another character named Albert and day dreamed about the different body parts on the teacher that aroused him. Manny was informed at one point in the novel that he could have his sexual desires fulfilled if he passed the initiation process. He would be allowed to caress and kiss one of the girls. Manny found out very early that sex was not all that it seemed through an experience his sister encountered. Manny's sister was sneaking out to be with a guy and having unprotected sex. She became pregnant and didn't disclose this information until a medical condition came about. She ended up having a miscarriage and became very ill. This brings up the issue of birth control, if it was used and its importance.
Victor Martinez wrote a very interesting novel that I am sure many families no matter their ethnicity can relate too. It was very stereo typical, yet down to earth and true in the sense that many families are struggling over the same issues. Overall, I enjoyed the novel, but I do not think that its content is appropriate for an individual younger than fourteen to read without a parent or adult figure reading it first.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2005
Format: Paperback
Though I doubt that my review will be either found helpful or noticed through the slew of 5 star reviews and 1 star reviews that go something like, "this book was hella dumm," the point of reviews in to speak your mind. This book, though it has rich characters and relationships, lacks the most important aspect of a novel: a plot. Victor Martinez fails to set out a definitive goal for the main character, and rather writes with "train of thought." The entire book is a jumble of situations the main character encounters that don't revolve around a central goal or conflict. Besides using unoriginal and sterotypical Mexican names such as "Hernandez" and "Garcia," the author writes with an overused and overly metaphorical style which doesn't pull the reader in until the last 15 pages or so. I recommend using spending your money elsewhere.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 27, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is a look into the life a young boy named Manuel, not just 'mi vida', but the lives of everyone around him and how they affect him. Manuel lives in Spanish projects with his dysfunctional family. I was really delighted by this book. While it is somewhat depressing all around, focusing on the hard life of a young boy, it is funny as well. The events of Manuel's life are very well-written. The story is expertly told, and while it is just one part of one person's life, it seems very significant, as a view into the less-mentioned part of America. This is one of my favorite books, and it is certainly one to add to your collection. Rose, age 12 (we're not all that stupid)
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
"Parrot in the Oven" is a pretty good book that sets out to portray life in the Barrio. The action follows a high school underclassman, Manny, as he meanders through life. There really is no climax in this book; it is a collection of stories, told chronologically and revolving around the same family. Martinez's biggest success in this novel is creating a sense of apathy. The title, "Parrot in the Oven" is to remind the reader of a fable in which a parrot is thinking to itself how hot it is in the shade, not realizing he's in an oven. While the main character is by no means stupid (as the fable implies), he is disturbingly apathetic. The reader clearly sees Manny in dangerous and destructive situations and becomes frustrated when he simply "goes with the flow," and this, I believe, is the reaction Martinez is looking for.
In the opinion of this reader, flaws exist in the book, however. While Martinez succeeds in creating a mood of apathy, I feel the book would have been more memorable if he presented some possible solutions to the problems of barrio life. Furthermore, while the marketers call this a "coming of age novel," I would disagree because Manny is too static for me to say that he went through a change. Finally, while there is a lot of anit-white talk in the novel, the reason behind the racism is not explained. If Martinez is going attempt to portray reality in his noven and have so many of his male characters bash whites, I would at least like it if he were to have a character attempt to explain Latino racism. None of the characters do this, which does a dis-service to all races reading the book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2002
Format: Paperback
I really enjoyed reading the book called PARROT IN THE OVEN. I would recommend any one to
Read it, because it keeps the reader wanting to read , and it is not a boring book .
I wish there were more series and I could read them all. This book was about a boy that has the worst life growing up. Although his family needs help they still manege to keep living .Manuel the main character has a dad who is very mean and cant keep a job. He also has a mom who cares about the family and tries to convince Magda his sister to not do things she would regret . He also has a little sister and an older brother. This book was a great book. I enjoyed reading it.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
A Parrot in the Oven is a novel written by Victor Martinez. This novel is emotional because of the description of the way a boy lives his life with a family full of turmoil and issues. It is about a boy name Manuel Hernandez who has trouble with his family mainly because of his father and mother. Manuel loves to play baseball and also wants to learn to be responsible. He also tries to make the best out of everything for his family. In the novel a Parrot in the Oven, the author uses excellent characterization by explaining the way the narrator and many other characters live their lives and the personality of the characters. Victor Manuel also describes the protagonist's friends and family mates as well as he would describe the main character. The author also makes the story clear and easy to understand for the reader. This makes the reader enjoy what he or she is reading. The author gets right to the point and shows the main conflict through the main character. I feel that a Parrot in the Oven is a magnificent book. I would recommend this book to a person with family issues similar to Manual's in the story and also to kids who get pushed around a lot and are taken for granted because of their disabilities. This book is excellent to read.
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