by Alan Lawrence Sitomer
Reviewed by The Book Dealer
“I was born in the United States of America. That makes me legal.
Pero mis padres jumped the border to get here. That makes them illegal.
I have documents. They don’t I speak English. They don’t. I have a social security number, a passport, and a license to drive. They don’t they don’t they don’t. Actually, mi papi does have a social security number. Three of them. You can buy them for fifteen dollars apiece down at the tacqueria.”
(p. 1, Sitomer)
It has been a while since I have read a book by Alan Sitomer, and I am so glad I was given The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriquez. Even while on vacation on a tropical island, I could not leave my beach chair for my need to finish this book.
Sonia is the oldest daughter of 5 children (soon to be 7 due to her mother’s pregnancy with twins). Her story is of her life as a Mexican-American teen born in California, whose illegal parents have lived and worked in the US her entire life.
Sitomer uses a first person (slightly bilingual) narrative and depiction of immigrant life. Sonia is a high school student who is highly motivated to be the first in her family to graduate from high school and make something of her life. She abhors the labels given to people of her Mexican heritage, but she lives with a house full of family members that unfortunately epitomize these stereotypes. Sonia often finds herself wondering how she will ever be successful, because as the oldest girl, she is responsible for all the cooking, caring, and cleaning for her familia.
Her father works three jobs in order to support the family while her brothers, pregnant mother, crazy Aunt Tia Luna, and her “Drunkle”(drunk uncle) only take advantage of the situation by making her their personal lackey. The story also includes Sonia’s summer visit to a remote town in Mexico to visit with her Abuelita and cousin Maria, as well as a wonderful love story with a young man who is from the “wrong side” of the tracks (El Salvador).
As a teacher of young adults, I know this would be an excellent read for reluctant as well as avid readers. Teens, those from diverse cultures as well as all young adults, will identify with this story that seems more like a biography than fiction. Read the first page or two and you’ll be hooked. The book is one that portrays a strong heroine, and yet it is realistic in the conflicts she faces daily.