Can You See Me Now?

author: Estela Bernal  
Piñata Books / Arte Público Press, 2014 
grades 4-7 
Mexican American

On Mandy Silva’s 13th birthday, her father goes out to pick up her gift and never returns. Instead, a police officer comes to the door to tell her and her mother that a drunk driver had struck his car, instantly killing him. Consumed by grief, Mandy’s mother looks for someone to blame: “If she hadn’t insisted on that stupid watch for her birthday, he would still be alive.”

Mandy feels both guilty for leading her father into harm’s way and invisible in her own grief. Her mother takes on extra shifts at work, leaving Mandy in the care of her grandmother. And the school bullies cut her no slack—just days after she returns to school, they glue her skirt to the chair.

A local history project leads Mandy to Paloma, another “invisible” girl whose hippie parents, studious demeanor, and interest in yoga have also knocked her off the social radar. Mandy also realizes her own complicity in marginalizing other students when the house across the street from her grandmother’s burns down, and she discovers that Rogelio, the overweight boy who lives there, has been her classmate for years but she has never spoken to him. Now she does, and it leads to another friendship both with him and with his dog.

In writing letters to her father, Mandy comes to terms with her grief and with the changes in her life. She realizes that many people feel invisible—including her classmates and the older people in her community—and in making the effort to reach out to others, she, too, heals.

Mandy, whose given name is Amanda, is Latina, as are nearly all the other characters in this middle grade novel that immerses readers in a small town in Texas populated by Latina/o residents who have lived there for many generations. Bernal’s vivid descriptions of “San Fulano” (the town’s name, which implies anonymity) give the setting depth, as if it’s a character in the story. It also challenges the stereotype of Latina/os as recent immigrants or having lived here for no more than two or three generations. In fact, there are many in the West and Southwest whose families have lived in that area since before 1848, when the United States seized those lands from Mexico.

The other Tejana/o characters are diverse as well, countering stereotypes. There are popular kids and social outcasts, people of all economic strata (though in this novel, Mandy and her friends are solidly middle- or upper middle income) and with a variety of interests from yoga to dogs. Still, heritage is important. Mandy’s teacher, Ms. Romero, is an outspoken opponent of a large development project that threatens to wipe out sites of historic value, and the class’s local history project leads Mandy and her friends to meet the town’s elderly residents and to learn about their lives. Can You See Me Now? is recommended.

—Lyn Miller-Lachmann
(published 7/5/15)

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