What 12-year-old Ana Rosa Hèrnandez wants more than anything is a notepad of her very own. Writing is her passion, and words flow out of her pencil onto the paper bags that Papi brings his rum home in, onto napkins, onto gray shop paper. In the República Dominicana, however, only the President can write books. But as Mami sighs and says, "Ana Rosa, there always has to be a first person to do something." These supportive words are difficult for her mother to muster, as everyone on the island knows too well that writers do not have freedom of expression--and in their political climate "silence was self-defense."
When the chilling news arrives that the government wants to buy all the land in the village to build hotels and generate more tourism, people learn what it means to break their silence. Ana Rosa's handsome 19-year-old brother Guario Hèrnandez is appointed as official spokesperson for the villagers' cause, but when an out-and-out rebellion against the government erupts, he--and everyone else--is endangered. As the bulldozers roll in, Ana Rosa and her family discover how utterly worthless words really are in the face of brute force.
Lynn Joseph paints a vibrant, colorful landscape of this Caribbean island where love, warmth of community, and abundant natural beauty soften the kind of poverty that makes paper--and sometimes doing what you think is right--a luxury. Ana Rosa's engaging, heartfelt poems--"Merengue Dream," "My Brother's Friend"--begin every chapter, setting the tone of the events to follow, and reinforcing how words shape her life and how her life shapes her words. Young readers will be inspired by Ana Rosa's drive and talent, warmed by vivid stories of her close-knit family, and moved by those who fight for what's right at the greatest possible cost. This lovely, lyrical book dances the merengue, glimmers with sunshine, and sways with island breezes. (Ages 10 and older) --Karin Snelson
From Publishers Weekly
In finely wrought chapters that at times read more like a collection of related short stories than a novel, Joseph (Jump Up Time) presents slices from the life of Ana Rosa just as she is about to turn 13. Through the heroine's poetry and recollections, readers gain a rare intimate view of life in the Dominican Republic. Ana Rosa dreams of becoming a writer even though no one but the president writes books; she learns to dance the merengue by listening to the rhythms of her beloved ocean; and the love of her older brother, Guario, comforts her through many difficulties. The author's portraits of Ana Rosa and her family are studies in spare language; the chapters often grow out of one central imageAsuch as the gri gri tree where Ana Rosa keeps watch over her village and gets ideas for her writingAgiving the novel the feel of an extended prose poem. The brevity of the chapters showcases Joseph's gift for metaphoric language (e.g., her description of Ana Rosa's first crush: "My dark eyes trailed him like a line of hot soot wherever he went"). When the easy rhythms of the girl's island life abruptly change due to two major events, the author develops these cataclysms so subtly that readers may not feel the impact as fully as other events, such as the heroine's unrequited love. Still, it's a testimony to the power of Joseph's writing that the developments readers will empathize with most are those of greatest importance to her winning heroine. Ages 8-12. (Aug.)
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