Tortilla Sun

author: Jennifer Cervantes
Chronicle Books, 2010
grades 4-7 
Mexican American

When her single mother, a graduate student, signs on to a research project in Costa Rica, 12-year-old Izzy Roybal is sent to her grandmother’s house in a New Mexican village, even though Mom and Nana “don’t see eye to eye.” Mom is a footloose scientist while Nana has never strayed from her Mexican-American roots and community. Not only has Mom kept Izzy away from her cultural heritage for twelve years, but she has also kept the youngster away from any information about her Anglo father, who died before Izzy was born.

Before leaving California for New Mexico, Izzy finds her father’s baseball, on which is written, “because…magic,” with the words in between clearly missing. Izzy is eager to find the missing words and with them the truth about her father. Nana and Nana’s friends counsel patience. There are tortillas to prepare and decorations to put up for a birthday party. To pass the time, Izzy works on a story she is writing about a girl whose life parallels hers. Then she meets 13-year-old Mateo, a guitar-playing neighbor with an interest in finding buried treasure, and Maggie, a six-year-old orphan who is cared for by her grandmother Gip, Nana’s best friend. Mateo introduces Izzy to Socorro, the village healer, who offers more clues to Izzy’s past, but Izzy’s desire to discover everything at once puts others in danger.

Cervantes’s debut novel reveals the rich fabric of the community and a spunky and appealing protagonist. Izzy’s energy and impatience ring true, as well as her feeling of being out of sync with the village. This same feeling of being at odds with her surroundings helped to drive away Izzy’s mother, but the youngster’s desire to connect with her past bonds her to people with whom she otherwise has little in common. Cervantes uses elements of magic realism as markers of the characters’ emotional transformation in a way that is subtle and natural. Most compelling, though, is the connection between the athletic, tomboyish Izzy to the father she never knew, a promising baseball player until the tragedy that took his life. Recommended.

—Lyn Miller-Lachmann
(published 4/8/13)

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