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Customer reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
18
Ocotillo Dreams
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on March 25, 2012
I recently read Melinda Palacio's wonderful "Ocotillo Dreams" and have been thinking about it quite a bit. If you don't know the versatile and talented Ms Palacio, check out her site here. She's probably best known as a poet, but she's also a blogger, speaker, and now, a novelist to be reckoned with.
Like Isola, the heroine of "Ocotillo Dreams," I grew up in a family that sometimes embraced and sometimes barely balanced between two cultures; I have found myself fascinated more and more by my own blended culture--and drawn to others' hybrid identities--as each year passes.
I also grew up with a mother who challenged stereotypes, and created her own persona--part hippy, part activist, part "earth mother", and always her own woman--so I could relate to Isola's mixture of embarrassment and pride in her own mom.
The novel's story is deceptively simple--Isola comes to Arizona to settle her late mom's "estate" and finds herself involved with some undocumented workers that have crossed and are crossing the border. But the story is not the whole story--the deeper tale is one of identity, self-awareness, and belonging. Isola must learn about herself in order to learn about her mother--and in order to find her life's deeper purpose.
For those of us who live on the border, and confront these challenges daily, the book's characters and locations will feel specific and familiar, but no less intriguing for all that. For those unfamiliar with the Southwest U.S. and our border issues, this book is a great way to explore the territory and the culture--but more than all that, readers will be drawn into the novel and soon care deeply about the people they meet in its pages.
1 helpful vote
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on August 6, 2011
This was a beautifully written novel filled with romance, emotions, and politics. A young woman goes back to Chandler, Arizona to take care of her recently deceased mother's affairs and learns about her secret life helping undocumented immigrants. In getting to know her mother, she realizes many things about herself and her life takes on a whole new meaning. I loved this book from start to finish and could barely put it down.
4 helpful votes
5 helpful votes
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on February 12, 2012
I loved the story. It had the elements of a mother-daughter relationship, death, historical information about immigration, and romance all rolled into one. The story came together beautifully. It is a must read for readers of every genre. The story captured me from the moment I picked it up. I read the novel over a 24 hour period because it was difficult to put it down. Great story telling and a must read for all. Looking forward to the next novel.
2 helpful votes
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on August 13, 2011
The author has presented the clash between two cultures in a subtle and powerful story involving an illegal immigrant man & a sophisticated American woman. We are given the motivations and actions of each of these characters separately, so that we may read their conflicts & consequences. A thought-provoking book.
5 helpful votes
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on May 23, 2012
This is an amazing book. The story seems straightforward-- a daughter going to close up the house after her mother's death. Her relationship with her mother was strained and, while they weren't strangers, they didn't see eye-to-eye about her mother's life and their shared past. The mother helps save the lives of immigrants crossing the border by leaving food and water in the desert. The daughter is a professor living in San Francisco and dealing with her own very American problems. She thinks that closing her mother's home should be easy.

Nothing is easy for the daughter. She finds friends in her mother's friends people who won't be held at arm's-length. She finds a lover she shares with her late mother. And then the extraordinary part-- the ending. Melinda Palacio completely turns the daughter's life around, and does it with great power and subtlety. The daughter discovers why her mother was who she was and why she made the choices she made. The ending of this book is tremendous and not to be forgotten. There is great pain, but through it enlightenment.

It takes great authority to deliver an ending that relies upon the reader's carefully-constructed understanding of characters. Melinda Palacio does in 188 pages what many novelists couldn't pull off in 500. I am already looking forward to her next novel, and hope it will be 500 pages long. More! Author!
2 helpful votes
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on October 21, 2012
I greatly appreciate Amazon's, sometimes not so welcomed, suggestions on new reads. As someone who closely follows border issues, I found this novel to be helpful in terms of understanding the complexity of being undocumented in this country. I often wonder why the national immigration discourse has become so dehumanizing.

However, the very first reason I give this novel five stars is because I love how Palacio weaves and unweaves the mother/daughter relationship that was once strained. It certainly made me realize how much we leave to fate as we fail to open our hearts in time before a parent passes. I strongly recommend this novel because it is very well written and because it will have you linger upon what truly matters in life: love and compassion.
1 helpful vote
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on May 29, 2013
I didn't like this book. It wasn't very interesting. It uses way too much detail, which gets on my nerves.
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on January 12, 2012
In poet Melinda Palacio's debut novel, Ocotillo Dreams, we meet a young woman named Isola, a green-eyed, "exotic-looking" Mexican-American "often mistaken for Thai or Filipino" whose mother's death couldn't have come at a worse time in her life. Just one fellowship short of becoming a full professor in San Francisco, Isola, drowning in credit card debt, lawyer fees and student loans, is suddenly forced to put her future on hold to settle her mother's estate in Chandler, Arizona.

Her plan is to temporarily relocate to Chandler, pack up her mother's house and sell it as quickly as possible and return to her life in San Francisco. With the help of her lawyer, Isola figures the whole process should only take a couple of weeks at most. But Isola, self-absorbed and a bit spoiled, has more baggage than she realizes. The self-proclaimed "reigning champ of awkward moments," Isola discovers Cruz Zarate, a handsome stranger sleeping in her mother's house, which is just one of the many startling secrets of her mother's hidden life that challenge Isola's understanding of her troubled relationship with her mother, her unresolved issues with her father's death (and her inheritance) and her strange obsession over the break-up with her boyfriend three years before.

To make matters worse, it's 1997, and the political climate over immigration issues in Arizona has reached its boiling point, creating an environment of uncertainty and fear that deeply divides the community on both sides of the issue. In fact, Arizona legislators have enacted a law that, in essence, permits racial profiling which the police in Chandler enforce through an action called Operation Restoration - five days of sweeps and raids to identify, arrest and deport as many undocumented immigrants as possible.

We follow Isola on her quest to put her past behind her and the lessons she learns along the way; lessons of love, politics, her relationships with family and her connection to the community - and one lesson she seems to learn a little too late.

Melinda Palacio writes with confidence and charm and without that preachy and pretentious tone that can quickly ruin a story like Ocotillo Dreams. My only complaint, which is very minor, would be the two-page prologue, which is written in a "poetic" style that doesn't, for this reviewer, truly represent the skillful pacing and prose of this otherwise thoughtful, compelling and confident debut novel which I highly recommend for serious readers and students of the novel.

*I received a reviewer's copy of this book from the publisher for review on my blog.
8 helpful votes
9 helpful votes
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It's so real. You can smell the fresh tortillas. Taste the jalapenos. Palacio creates a world where You, as reader, become the characters. Feel their fear. The pit bull charges. You breathe - hyperventilate - la migra around every corner. Always hungry. Read this book and you will look into the brown eyes of the hard-working day-laborer with startling new clarity. Empatia. Simpatia. Walk a mile in my huaraches. Learn as the conflicted character Isola does what is real. Learn that family matters most. That love is there for the taking. That the will to survive trumps everything. With the beautiful image of the red ocotillo blossom to remind you of the blood of family, of pride, of sacrifice. Imagine Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Freida Kahlo, Pablo Neruda and Melinda Palacio each at the corner of an intersection waiting to cross and all at once all the lights turn green. That's the sweet...Ocotillo Dream.
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on June 27, 2012
Melinda Palacio's first novel tackles head-on our muddled immigration policy. How many illegalities do immigrants have to commit in their quest for a better life? And how do the law's capricious changes in policy play havoc with the lives of honest people?

When Isola attempts to clear out her deceased mother's house, she learns that her mother has been helping immigrants cross the border into Arizona. Especially appalling to her is that, before she died, her mother was about to give her father's social security card to a young man who needed work. Isola is forced to take action, and her choices shed light on the complex situation along the border. An interesting read.
1 helpful vote
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