National Hispanic Heritage Month: Spotlight on Victor Martinez

Today marks the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15-October 15. To celebrate, I set up a book display in my classroom and invited my colleagues to read an Hispanic author this month. So far, no takers, but my school librarian did vow to order more books my Hispanic authors, which was great.

I also plan to highlight Hispanic authors of young adult literature. The list to choose from was long and my time to read is always limited. I didn’t get to as many as I had hoped, but at the end of the month, I will post a list of titles for those of you interested in reading YA novels written by Hispanic authors. I will continue to chip away at the long list and post about them during the year because–hey, Hispanics should be celebrated year round! :.)

Here’s a link with more information about National Hispanic Heritage Month:

http://hispanicheritagemonth.gov/

And here’s a link for Latina Book Club, a site by Maria Ferrer dedicated to promoting Hispanic authors and literacy.

http://www.latinabookclub.com/

And, today’s YA author in the spotlight is VICTOR MARTINEZ. Enjoy!

AUTHOR: (Most of this information came from the HarperCollins website) Victor Martinez, a Mexican-American poet and author, was born and raised in Fresno, California, the fourth in a family of twelve children. He attended California State University at Fresno and Stanford University, and has worked as a field laborer, welder, truck driver, firefighter, teacher, and office clerk. His poems, short stories, and essays have appeared in journals and anthologies. A week before he was nominated for the National Book Award, he read his poetry in public. Six people showed up. Three were his friends. After he won, he was interviewed by national media and his novel made its way into high school curriculums. The $10,000 prize was more than he had made the previous year. Martinez died on Feb. 18, 2011 a few days before his 57th birthday.

YA NOVEL: PARROT IN THE OVEN: MI VIDA

Parrot in the Oven: Mi vidaThis was Martinez’s debut novel and only YA title. He won the 1996 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the Pura Belpre´Award. The novel was also listed on the Boston Globe-Horn Book Fanfare Honor List and Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of 1996.

FROM THE BOOK JACKET: “Dad believed people were like money. You could be a thousand-dollar person or a hundred-dollar person–even a ten-, five-, or one-dollar person. Below that, everybody was just nickels and dimes. To my dad, we were pennies.”

Fourteen-year-old Manny Hernandez wants to be more than just a penny. He wants to be a vato firme, the kind of guy people respect. But that’s not easy when your father is abusive, your brother can’t hold a job, and your mother scrubs the house as if she can wash her troubles away. In Manny’s neighborhood, the way to get respect is to be in a gang. But Manny’s not sure that joining a gang is the solution. Because, after all, it’s his life–and he wants to be the one to decide what happens to it.

MY TWO CENTS: Martinez’s novel is written as a series of related vignettes, rather than in a traditional narrative arc, and his talent as a poet often shines through. Here’s an example:

When I neared the pharmacy, the sun was knifing a big blue hand through the ghosts of fog, sweeping them away like cobwebs. The maple trees on that street were dreary and weeping moisture, their stripped bark dusted with a glassy talcum of mist. But that, too, was melting. And when the wind came, little sneezes of drizzle sprayed my face.”

The novel’s format and style received some criticism from readers on Goodreads, but I liked both aspects. Manny’s voice is consistently poetic, so I accepted these beautifully written passages as part of the main character’s thought process, even though he is only 14. At times, while reading YA novels, I stop and think, “No teen-ager I know has ever used that word or would ever say that.” But in this case, I didn’t question the narrator’s observations. The writing pulled me in; I believed it was Manny’s voice. As for the vignettes, they were related and chronological for those needing to connect the plot’s dots.

LINKS for more information:

Find PARROT IN THE OVEN: MI VIDA on Amazon.com and Goodreads.

http://missionlocal.org/2011/02/remembering-award-winning-author-victor-martinez/

http://www.libraryjournal.com/slj/home/889629-312/author_poet_victor_martinez_dies.html.csp

http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-victor-martinez-20110303,0,5838556.story

NEXT UP: WHEN THE STARS GO BLUE by Caridad Ferrer

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