Tu Books, 2018
Eleven-year-old Ana María (Anamay) Reyes’s surname means “kings,” but she, her parents, and her three sisters live in a too-small apartment in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, home to many immigrants from the Dominican Republic. Because Mami is pregnant again, the apartment is about to get even more crowded. And a baby will cost money, something the family doesn’t have much of, so budding classical musician Anamay is hoping that her performance in a piano recital will lead to a full scholarship at the posh Eleanor school, which her best friend, Claudia, attends. To Anamay and her sisters, the school “looks like a castle.”
My parents laughed. “Maybe we should live here then. We are the Reyes, after all!” Mami said.
Enter Tía Nona, visiting from the Dominican Republic with her fiancé, Juan Miguel. Tía Nona and Juan Miguel are fabulously rich, and they’ve invited Anamay and her family to the island for their wedding – all expenses paid. Though excited to go and spend time with her cousins, whom she hasn’t seen in years, Anamay worries about not being able to practice her piece for the big recital. At her aunt’s home, she notices glaring class differences. While everyone in Washington Heights seems to live at the same lower middle-class level, Tía Nona has servants, whom she doesn’t treat very well. Anamay quickly becomes disillusioned with her once favorite aunt:
I stood there and looked at the closed door. Tía Nona seemed different from the person I always thought I knew—a person who cared about other people and treated them fairly. How could I have been so wrong about her? And now that I knew the real Tía Nona, could things ever be the same again?
Ignoring her aunt’s warnings, the good-hearted Anamay befriends Clarisa, whom her aunt disparagingly calls “Cosita,” or “little thing.” Clarisa works day and night and cannot go to school, and when she gets a day off, she returns to her family’s makeshift home in a grim shantytown. Anamay unwittingly contributes to Clarisa’s firing, and she doesn’t know how to apologize or help. But she doesn’t forget Clarisa, even when she returns to New York City.
Anamay’s year is full of ups and downs, friendships and misunderstandings, dreams attained and crushed. Like most preteens, she comes to see the fallibility of the adults in her world—not only Tía Nona but her unreliable alcoholic Tío Lalo, and even her parents as well. At the same time, she learns the importance of forgiveness, or cutting others—and herself—some slack. In the hands of debut novelist Hilda Eunice Burgos, Anamay’s story is endearing and real. Music is threaded throughout as she struggles with the emotion of her recital piece even after she masters its technical intricacies. Readers will cry along with Anamay, cheer her successes, and appreciate the warmth of family and friends who help her along the way. Ana María Reyes Does NOT Live in a Castle is highly recommended.