Sofia comes from a family of storytellers. Here are her tales of growing up in the barrio, full of the magic and mystery of family traditions: making Easter cascarones, celebrating el Dia de los Muertos, preparing for quincea–era, rejoicing in the Christmas nacimiento, and curing homesickness by eating the tequila worm. When Sofia is singled out to receive a scholarship to an elite boarding school, she longs to explore life beyond the barrio, even though it means leaving her family to navigate a strange world of rich, privileged kids. It's a different mundo, but one where Sofia's traditions take on new meaning and illuminate her path.
This tender first novel suffers somewhat from an awkward structure. Narrator Sofia, whose life story hews closely to the author's own Texas barrio-to-Harvard Law trajectory, begins by relating quotidian childhood experiences as vignettes. Three successive chapters go from first communion to dyeing Easter cascarones to trick-or-treating. A quarter of the way into the novel, she is suddenly 14 and has been offered a scholarship to a boarding school in Austin, Tex., 350 miles from her home in McAllen. The loosely connected anecdotes then shift to a conventional narrative thread about convincing her parents to let her attend. What will keep readers enthralled are the details of Sofia's home life-from the sobremesa, a "sacred time" after dinner in which the family reconnects through conversation, to the worm of the title, a critter soaked in mescal that acts as a "cure for homesickness" when eaten. Readers may well feel unprepared for both a death at novel's end and Sofia's out-of-the-blue neighborhood activism-but the characters are real and engaging, the vignettes funny and enlightening, and Sofia's lack of cynicism is refreshing. Ages 12-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.