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on August 28, 2005
Sophia's early years are spent with her wonderful, supportive Mexican-American family and friends in South Texas. When she has the opportunity to attend an elite boarding school on scholarship, Sophia must make a decision that will affect her future and her family. Canales combines cultural details, vivid characters, and humerous and touching situations into a realistic and involving growing-up story that transcends culture and ethnicity.
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on August 25, 2005
Looking for a present for a friend's daughter, I came upon The Tequila Worm. The warm, evocative prose drew me into the story of Sofia and pulled me along so smoothly that I forgot about time. I remember having read a fascinating piece in the New York Times a year ago or so about quinceanera and its place in Latino culture. I enjoyed reading about Sofia's reaction to this sort of cotillion, her apprehension of enrolling in a WASPy boarding school far from home, and her idea of applying to Harvard. Sofia lives the American Dream, but without turning her back on family. Well, I'll have to get a new copy for my friend's daughter -- my copy stays with me, even though I am an adult. I will read it again someday.
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on August 22, 2005
Sofia Casas, the heroine of The Tequila Worm,is the best storyteller-heroine of a young adult book since Harriet the Spy. When the book begins, Sofia is growing up in the barrio of a border town in Texas, with magical rituals and wacky relatives (imagine being wrapped in a beige blanket to go trick or treating as a bean taco!). When the opportunity to attend a fancy Anglo boarding school comes along, Sofia is eager to leave her old world behind. Her quest to persuade her family to allow her to go, and then to earn the extra money, is simultaneously funny and deeply moving. And ultimately, she learns to keep hold of her traditional culture and become a "comadre" even as she moves into a new world.

Sometimes, The Tequila Worm made me laugh out loud. Sometimes it brought a lump to my throat. It's the kind of book you'll read again and again, and each time through, you'll notice something new about the exotic world it brings to life, and about the story teller's craft.
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on May 4, 2006
Sofia, a Mexican-American girl from the Rio Grande Valley town of McAllen, Texas, studies while her best friend dreams of her quinceanera. To achieve her dream of attending the private academy that has awarded her a scholarship, Sofia needs $400, five new dresses, and her mother's permission. Although each of these tasks seem individually insoluble to her, through their accomplishment, she learns the value of having good comadres-and being one.

The reader will follow the story of a young Sofia and cousin Berta from first communion, to Day of the Dead celebrations, and finally to Berta's quinceanera, after which Sofia exits for her private school and new experiences there. The charm, though is in the details of the quiet moments depicted with Sofia's family--telling stories from the storyteller's bag, cleaning pinto beans, and discussing the problems of the day at the sobremesa-and the excellent characterization. The reader can't help but smile at Tia Petra and her penchant for plastic, or at Sofia's bafflement of Berta's newfound enjoyment of sappy charro movies, but mild amusement is not the only emotion that will be provoked during the course of this read. Tequila Worm touches on the reality of death at various points of the story at different levels of reaction, and the reader should not be surprised to learn that this is a build-up to the climax and greatest lesson of the novel as a whole.

The loosely woven chapters of The Tequila Worm are chronological, but can stand alone with their individual lessons of life with family and friends in the small Texas town of McAllen. Canales shows off excellent story-telling skills in this almost-autobiography. Sofia and the other characters feel authentic, and fresh, presenting a neighborhood life that may rarely exist outside of fiction for many of the target audience of grades six to nine. Although holding special appeal for readers of Mexican-American descent, this book has the capacity to entertain and teach a lesson in understanding one's own self to many readers, regardless of their previous experience with Mexican traditions.
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on December 7, 2005
This charming novel by Stanford author Viola Canales is a book of stories about a family, a culture and a young girl who is smart enough to appreciate the richness of where she came from when she eventually goes away. In her barrio, Sofia is surrounded by a loving family and a community steeped in tradition. Though she does not want a quinceanera herself, she serves as the dama de honor for her cousin and best friend, Berta, when Berta turns 15. What Sofia really wants is to accept the scholarship she won to an Episcopal boarding school in Austin, 350 miles away. But to do that she needs her parents' permission, five decent dresses, and 400 dollars - each a seemingly insurmountable task. Readers will enjoy following Sofia along the way toward reaching her goal, and the culture shock that greets her at Saint Luke's. She also undoubtedly shocks some of her classmates when she and two friends take her papa's "definitive cure for homesickness": chewing and swallowing a squishy tequila worm. Sometimes humorous and always thoughtful, Canales has taken her own experience and expertly universalized it. Look to The Tequila Worm for a shining example of young adult literature at its best. (Review originally appeared in the Palo Alto Weekly.)
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on January 20, 2006
This relentlessly charming first-person novel brings readers into the tightly woven fabric of life in the Tejana world, full of celebrations and food, full of joy and delight. Great writing with a consistently authentic voice of the hopeful teenage heroine.
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on October 14, 2005
A fun and interesting account of gir's life growing up in the Rio Grande Valley. Viola's experiences remind me of my life in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. All her short stories have an interesting tale to tell.
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on June 30, 2016
The Tequila Worm begins as vignettes and then moves into a more traditional narrative when Sofia, the Mexican-American protagonist, is a fourteen-year-old high school freshman. In the beginning, a younger Sofia relays special family-centered moments–some downright hysterical and others more poignant–such as her First Communion, making cascarones for Easter, and celebrating both Halloween and Día de los Muertos. Throughout these moments, Sofia learns about her culture and, at times, is torn between her tight-knit community and the “American” world beyond her barrio in McAllen, Texas. After trick-or-treating in her neighborhood and then in another, wealthier part of town, Sofia has this conversation with her father:

“I wish I lived on the other side of town,” I said, looking out the window at the darkness.

“Why, mi’ja?”

“Because they live in nice houses, and they’re warm.”

“Ah, but there’s warmth on this side, too.”

“But…it’s really cold at home, and most of the houses around us are falling apart.”

“Yes, but we have our music, our foods, our traditions. And the warm hearts of our families.”

Another example is when Sofia is verbally bullied, called a “Taco Head” by students when she eats her homemade lunch at school. First, she is embarrassed and avoids the cafeteria entirely, spending that time on the playground or eating inside a stall in the girls’ bathroom to avoid ridicule. With the help of a P.E. teacher, Sofia returns to the lunch room, proudly eats her tacos in public, and is given the advice to get even, not by kicking the bully (which Sofia wants to do) but by kicking her butt at school.

Sofia, indeed, excels in academics and is offered a scholarship to St. Luke’s Episcopal School, a prestigious boarding school in Austin. Sofia’s family doesn’t understand why she wants to leave her home. When her mother asks, “But what’s wrong with here?” Sofia responds, “Nothing. But the Valley is not the whole world…I just want to see what’s out there.”

Eventually, Sofia’s family allows her to attend St. Luke’s, as long as she promises to remain connected and learn how to be a good comadre to her sister Lucy and cousin Berta. In the place she calls “Another Mundo,” Sofia learns to appreciate her family’s stories and traditions, understanding how they have shaped her and connected her to a community rich in other ways. The young girl who once hid after being called a “Taco Head,” grows into a young adult who is “brave enough to eat a whole tequila worm” and who confronts a classmate who writes a note telling Sofia to “wiggle back across the border.” Sofia responds by saying, “My family didn’t cross the border; it crossed us. We’ve been here for over three hundred years, before the U.S. drew those lines.”

The novel’s end leaps ahead in time, with Sofia as an adult, a civil rights lawyer living in San Francisco, who fights to preserve her changing neighborhood and who often visits to happily participate in the traditions she questioned as a child.

The novel’s main events are closely connected to the author’s life, as she, too, was raised in McAllen and attended a prestigious boarding school before attending Harvard University. Many of Canales’s own experiences, portrayed through Sofia, would be easily recognizable to younger Latinx readers who straddle two cultures and find value in each as they come of age.
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on August 11, 2015
I needed this book. It was a pleasant break from the heaviness of the last two books we’ve featured, which isn’t to say that it’s insignificant or unimportant in any way. It’s certainly not a ‘fluff’ book. It’s incredibly moving and meaningful, yet there’s still an air of lightness to it. It’s infused with humor, even as you read some of the more serious sections. This is the kind of book that you find yourself smiling through, or maybe even laughing out loud.

I couldn’t have asked for more perfect timing. We’ve spent the last two months holding a variety of workshops on teaching about Día de los Muertos. In all of these workshops we talk about the importance of avoiding the "holidays and heroes" or multicultural tourism approach to teaching about cultures and cultural traditions. Canales’ book shows how this can be done. Through reading The Tequila Worm students learn about various celebrations and traditions, but there’s a depth to it - these things are conceptualized within what it means to be a family and a member of a community. As teachers, we often have students research cultural traditions as class projects, but it can be difficult to do this in a way that’s meaningful, or so that it doesn’t come across as if it were written for a travel brochure. Canales’ book offers a way to do this because the traditions and rituals are contextualized within family relationships. In one article, Canales discusses her experiences and offers thoughts on the cultural importance of The Tequila Worm: “At one Texas reading for The Tequila Worm, a group of women were saying the most striking things, such as ‘I know there are a lot of Mexicans in Austin, but I didn’t not really understand the richness of the culture—and now I am feeling culture envy.’ Culture envy. . .That is where I want to go with this. I want people to weep for the destruction of the Ninth Ward in New Orleans and to weep for the music lost, the recipes, the warmth, and the magic lost, the creativity gone. I want them to feel the same appreciation for the Mexican-American culture” (p. 77).

I often talk about the books we feature as counter-narratives because I think this is such an important part of the need for diverse literature in the classroom. Too often I sat in the teachers’ lounge listening to colleagues talk about how the parents of our students of color just didn’t value education or family. This book shows just how wrong that misconception is. This is a story about a beautiful family whose love allows their children to become who they want to be, and in doing this prepares them to grapple with el otro mundo and still hold on to their own identity. It is a book that celebrates the unique and the eccentric that make us the individuals we are, but that also allow us to be a community that loves and supports one another.

When I read a book, I almost always have a favorite character, maybe one I identify with more, one who resonates with me, or one who just makes me laugh. I don’t with this novel. I loved every single one of Canales’ characters. Sofia’s relationship with her father is quite special, and it may be easier for students to see how important it is because it’s a little more overt. Yet her relationship with her mother, her little sister Lucy, and her best friend Berta are just as important to her ultimate success.

By the end of the book, Sofia understands the beauty, strength and importance of her family, their history, and their traditions, but this takes her some time to come to understand. It’s when she’s confronted with the cultural clash at Saint Luke’s boarding school that she comes to understand the value of her own community and what sets her apart from her peers. This is a necessary conversation that we need to be having in our classrooms, where too often the dominant culture is judged to be right or the best. Our students need to read stories that offer critiques of dominant culture, and show protagonists who critically and consciously evaluate this, and don’t necessarily go along with it.
While much of the story is based on Canales’ own childhood, the ending isn’t. The beautiful plaza that Sofia returns to doesn’t exist except in Canales' imagination: “The placito is metaphorical. To change an outlook, you have to be shown something that is positive, that is beautiful. . .We all need a better world right now. America is stuck; it has lost its magic in life and people live life as work. I think we only start dreaming again with myth and spirituality in our lives. Only then can we conjure up a better society” (p. 79). For me, Canales’ book is definitely a step in that direction.

The Tequila Worm has earned a variety of awards and recognitions: Américas Award Honorable Mention (2005), Pura Belpré Award for Writing (2006), ALSC Notable Children Book (2006),and the Judy Lopez Memorial Award Honor Book, among others.

Our free educator’s guide is available on our wordpress blog Vamos a Leer.
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on January 20, 2016
4 Platypires for The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales

The title and the cover is what initially hooked me. I had it on my TBR shelf for a while and finally picked it up from a local book store. I'm so glad I did.
The Tequila Worm is a culturally filled book that is filled with humor and a lot of love. I truly enjoyed the family dynamic. I thought it captured what it means to be apart of a Hispanic family. I also learned a lot about Mexican traditions that were really new to me even after growing up in Texas.
Overall this was a nice read and would recommend it to those looking to read about other cultures.
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