|Sandra Cisneros: Caramelo|
Vintage Books (Trade Paperback), ISBN0-679-43554-0
Every summer the Reyes family travels from Chicago to St. Louis to Tulsa to Dallas and over the border to visit the Awful Grandmother in Mexico City. Usually the three Reyes brothers stagger the trips, but this year they go in a caravan with Uncle Fat Face's white Cadillac, Uncle Baby's green Impala and Father's red Chevrolet wagon, stocking the cars with stuff from Maxwell Street Flea Market to sell in Mexico.
Celala "Lala" Reyes looks forward to a summer of fun, exploring the outside markets and exotic foods of Mexico City, and drinking pineapple soda in the baking warm sun. At Awful Grandmother's house she gains a new friend: Candalaria, who comes on Monday with her mother to wash clothes and do household chores.
Candalaria has caramel skin, warm and smooth like the taste of taffy that melts under your tongue -- so sweet that it makes your tongue ache to look at it. Candalaria likes to play even though she wakes up with the rooster crowing on her shoulder and doesn't wear proper underwear. The family doesn't consider a servant's daughter a suitable playmate for Lala, but Awful Grandmother includes Candarlaria on family the trip to Aculpulco to take care of the babies.
Every family guards secrets and history. Ask Little Grandfather about his past; he'll tell you of the revolution, Pancho Villa and his government appointment. Awful Grandmother complains about the younger generation, reminding them of the hardships she survived as a child. No one ever endured a harder life than Awful Grandmother -- that's why she tries to spoil everybody else's pleasure.
Awful Grandmother also plays favorites. She fawns over Lala's father, her oldest son, even rousing the family to sing to him while he breakfasts in bed, further straining family relationships. Things come to a head when the dining room ceiling collapses during Father's birthday festivities. Awful Grandmother decides to sell her house and move in with Lala's family in Chicago, but this doesn't satisfy her. Discontented with the cold Chicago winters, she demands that the family return south again, to find a new home in Texas.
Cisneros presents the child's view of the quarrels and intrigues developing within a traditional extended family as the generations spread across the Mexican-American border. Celala, the only girl of the family, documents the disputes and journeys, drawing portraits of family members and chronicling their lives. Hilarious, fun-loving and poignant, Caramelo delves into the social conflicts facing Latinos and their culture. Vividly painted, the novel proves richer in color and flavor than a cookbook, depicting the expansive panorama of Mexican-American life and its heritage.
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