Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Raining Sardines by Flores-Galbis, Enrique (3 out of 4 stars)--

Young adult fiction does not normally require me to scamper over to a literary encyclopedia or online database to look up terms and genres, but when the title of Enrique Flores-Galbis’s first novel Raining Sardines actually started happening in the story and I was dumbfounded, I knew I needed to understand more about Magic Realism. Although Flores-Galbis emigrated from Cuba when he was nine, his writing is greatly influenced by 20th Century Latin American writers. Sadly, in retrospect, multiculturalism in my early 1980s undergraduate English department meant that we studied American and British literature, so I was lucky to have read Goethe and Dostoyevsky, let alone excellent Latin American authors such as Colombian Gabriel García Márquez and Chilean Isabel Allende. I was happy to expand my literary and geographical horizons a bit with this quirky novel. Although the style was awkward at times, Flores-Galbis’s pre-Castro story of community, friendship, and respect for family and the land does emerge and weave its way through a reasonably satisfying story.
The novel begins when best friends Ernestina and Enriquito swim out in the water to meet a fortune teller, Aguas Clara la Divinadora, who is floating on a couch, sipping tea and telling stories. Clara speaks mysteriously at times, but she seems to know many things about the children’s futures. She gives cryptic (but ultimately valuable) advice to Enriquito: “With the tip of her finger, she traced a swirling shape in the center of his forehead. Enriquito heard her say, ‘One to forget, two to remember.’ Clara smiled and winked at him. ‘Believe in your dreams. When the right time comes, if you listen, you will hear me’” (8). Their dreams begin to manifest themselves in reality when Ernestina and Enriquito discover a hidden valley in which the finest Paso Fino wild ponies dwell in peace, untouched by the stain of colonialization. Unfortunately, rich, greedy, and callous Don Rigol, whose daughter Alysia is a snobbish, bratty thorn in Ernestina’s side, is clearing the mountain, and they will soon find and capture the ponies. A locket that belongs to Alysia but might have originally belonged to Enriquito’s family may hold the key to many unresolved issues that linger over the town about who owns the mountain and its contents. However, Don Rigol does everything he can to prevent his deceptions from emerging, so it becomes Ernestina’s and Enriquito’s sacred responsibility to become the revealers of the truth in the end, just like Aguas Clara la Divinadora in the beginning.
I confess to a bit of confusion at the start of Raining Sardines by Enrique Flores-Galbis; just as Ernestina and Enriquito felt awkward floating on a couch with Aguas Clara, I felt uncomfortable floating in uncharted literary waters. However, after about thirty or forty pages I got my sea legs and stopped trying to interpret everything like an English teacher. Once I simply enjoyed the often captivating imagery and stopped trying to figure out what everything symbolized, I started appreciating the colorful characters and settings more and worried about whether I was “getting it” less. Descriptions like, “Ernestina, spinning in the sun-splashed intersection, looked like she had been dipped in honey” (62) indicate that Flores-Galbis has the artist’s eye, and in fact, he is a painter and art teacher. Whether or not our students (and staff) appreciate this unique Latin American genre, they will recognize and probably enjoy this standard good guy-bad guy, David vs. Goliath tale. Particularly, Spanish speakers and learners may appreciate the liberal smattering of Spanish words and phrases throughout the novel.


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