My criteria for choosing a book from the high school list was that it had to be written from and about a non-white perspective. While I read a great variety of books, they mostly are written by white writers and I wanted to explore the amazing literature written by other talented perspectives. I scanned a list online and my interest was drawn to How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez. I have a weakness for accents. I have a habit of asking strangers where they are from based on their accents. This practice has granted me some really great conversations. So Alvarez's book was my choice.
I opted to complete this item on the list by choosing a title available on audiobook. Now that I've finished listening, I see that the audioversion has pros and cons for this particular story.
The pros were that I could listen to the book on my commutes to and from work. My drive time is anywhere from 35 to 45 minutes each way depending on traffic, so audiobooks have become a beloved way of passing the time while also helping to whittle down my burgeoning reading list. It was also helpful to listen rather than to read this story. I was able to hear the Spanish spoken rather than stumble through it on the page.
The con of listening to a story like this one is that the book's structure was hard to follow. With one CD left to listen to, I decided to google Julia Alvarez to get a sense of her background. I wish I had done this from the beginning. I would have had a better framework for the story I was listening to and a better appreciation for the context of the story. Alvarez is considered one of the leading Latina writers of her generation. Her books, including How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, are inspired by her Dominican American experiences and her family's eventual move to the US to escape trouble with the government under the dictator. She wrote this particular story as a set of short stories and tells the story backwards beginning with the sisters as adults and ending with the girls in childhood. Knowing this in advance would have helped me not feel so confused as I listened.
I am not drawn to poetry, but one thing I have learned is that prose written by poets takes my breath away. Their command of language is so different, enhanced, and this was true of Alvarez. I was especially impressed given that English was not her native language. To master beautiful writing in a second language is remarkable. Again, this is when I wish I had been reading it because it's impossible to bookmark or underline beautiful phrases in audio.
There were numerous times when I questioned whether this book and subject matter was appropriate for high school readers. There's where the 40 year old was creeping in. I kept remembering that I read books with challenging subject matter as a high schooler and I was able to handle it. I appreciated being confronted with the idea of age-appropriateness in reading. It underscored my desire to not censor my daughter's future reading, but to embrace whatever she chooses when she does and to read along with her. An experience just last night reinforces this decision.
We were driving home from a community concert in the park and Fresh Air with Terry Gross was on the radio. The woman being interviewed was discussing how the sound of her voice had been criticized by listeners of the podcasts to which she was a contributor. I didn't recognize her voice, so I kept listening and so did my daughter. The larger story was about how women are judged differently than men and held to different standards with regard to speech patterns. The overarching theme was lost on her, but my daughter perked up when she realized the conversation was about people saying rude things to this woman. As we pulled into our driveway, she asked, “That's not very good, is it?” I could tell that she had a lot more thoughts about the interview than she expressed. I asked her, “Tell me what you think.”
“Well, it's not nice for people to say mean things about her voice. What if I told you your voice was weird. That wouldn't feel very good, would it?” It was bedtime and not the time to bring up gender inequality, but I was proud of her for thinking critically about what she was hearing. That's only possible when we're exposed to challenging material. It reminded me that that's what reading does for us, no matter our age, if we are open to it.
Even though I was lost in the story line at times and was confused by the names of all the characters, I am really glad for the experience of listening to How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.
My reading appetite is whetted. I want to seek out a more diverse group of writers from which to read. The other book that caught my eye while I was making my selection was Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. It is on my reading list now. Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison are also on the list. What other authors would you suggest?