Allison's Book Bag

A Round-Up of Stories by Rita Williams-Garcia

Posted on: July 9, 2011

Books should both take us within and beyond our own experiences. The emotions and themes explored should resonate with us, allowing us to connect with the situations being portrayed. As for those situations, perhaps they will be unique. If they are, then maybe the characters will feel like no one whom we have ever met or the places will feel like no where we have ever been. Therein, books help us understand both ourselves and our world.

Rita Williams Garcia is an author you should read. The four novels of hers which I have read, along with her short stories and her picture book, all explore universal themes. For example, the novels share this common theme: responsibility. Like Sisters on the Homefront is also about finding a place to belong, No Laughter Here is about speaking up, taking a stand, and tackling violence, Jumped is about acceptance and violence, while One Crazy Summer is about abandonment and prejudice. I also read four of her short stories. In them, readers will find themes such as cultural identity, teen violence, and again responsiblity. Her picture book, Catching the Wild Waiyuuzee, stands apart in being about a mother and daughter relationship.

Cover of

Cover of Like Sisters on the Homefront

LIKE SISTERS ON THE HOMEFRONT

Rita Williams Garcia’s writings also introduced me to people, places, and situations outside of my experiences. Like Sisters on the Homefront is my favorite young adult book by Rita Williams Garcia. Back in the 1980’s, I read a lot of books and watched plenty of movies about teen issues. They seem less common these days, with most teen books being set in the fantasy realm. Like Sisters on the Homefront is about a fourteen year old city girl named Gayle who is pregnant for the second time. She can’t read or write well. Her preoccupation is with her friends (“sisters”) and, obviously, boys. Her mother ships her South with no return ticket to live with a proper aunt and stern minister. There is also a religious cousin. What sets Gayle’s story apart from other teen pregnancy stories is its realism and complexity. Unlike the typical story, Gayle actually misses her sex life. Then she meets Great, the fiesty matriarch of her family, and her life slowly begins to change. As she herself opens up to new experiences, we discover that there are also multiple layers to her mother, her new guardians , and even her cousin. Ultimately, Gayle starts to belong. In other words, Like Sisters on the Homefront has a happy ending. The latter two reasons, I admit, are part of why this is my favorite. Real life can be messy with few tidy endings. There is a huge part of me that demands for my fiction to contain structure and to thereby give me hope for my own life. Like Sisters on the Homefront offers both structure and hope.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read it.

How would you rate this book?

Cover of "Moolaadé"
Cover of Moolaadé

NO LAUGHTER HERE

No Laughter Here is my second favorite young adult book by Rita Williams Garcia. My husband and I often watch independent films at a local theater. One film that we watched in recent years, “Moolaadé”, opened our eyes to a taboo custom practiced in Africa, other countries, and even in the United States. While certain films like that one are important to see once, they often are not the type ones wishes to watch again. The subject matter is too difficult. From reviews of No Laughter Here, many people felt the same about this book. I understand. Rita Williams Garcia no doubt intended it more as an awareness book than a fun read. Yet I would happily read No Laughter Hereagain. I enjoyed the friendship between Akilah and Victoria. I also appreciated the changing dynamics of the relationship of Akihah with her parents and even her teachers. At its core, while about a taboo custom, No Laughter Here is about knowing when to stay quiet and deciding when to take action. It contains an underlying strength and optimism that kept me reading, even through the difficult passages. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt to remind myself sometimes of the reasons why we all need to sometimes take a stand.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read it.

How would you rate this book?

JUMPED

Then there is Jumped. It introduced me to a world that I know exists but am often able to ignore: teen violence. As much as I like to believe that everyone is nice and kind, the news reminds me that some people are selfish and cruel. Now so does Jumped. The action of Jumped occurs in one day through the stories of three different girls whose lives will become intertwined. Letica is probably your typical teenage girl who worries more about her nails than her education. She overhears Domininque’s plans to beat up Trina. Dominique a single-minded passion for sports. As for Trina, she likes art. She also acts as if everyone adores her. None of these teens are particularly likeable; nor could I ever see myself hanging out with them were I their age or any age. Yet during the course of the book I grew to halfway like them, simply because Rita Williams Garcia makes them so real. I felt as if they were walking my school hallways. None of these girls change. They all remain focused on themselves. Jumped also lacks a pretty tied-up-in-a-nice-neat-bow ending. As such, while it engrossed me, I also felt unsettled. Sometimes, all a book should do is make us feel uncomfortable.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

I reviewed One Crazy Summer earlier on Allison’s Book Bag. This leaves the short stories and the picture book:

The Good Samaritan by Aimé Morot (1880) shows ...

Image via Wikipedia

My least favorite, “After the Hurricane,” is about the right of people to go where they want. The story appeared in a book called Free? and was published by Amnesty International. I liked the contrast set up by this idea: “If we weren’t in it, this could be a disaster movie.” I also appreciated the description, but did not care for the poetic form. Nor did the story feel as complex as some of her others.

On the surface, “Crossover” is about a teen shooting, but on a deeper level it reminded me of the Biblical story of The Good Samaritan. While two teens lay dying on the sidewalk, passersby simply talk about why the shooting might have occurred instead of helping the boys. “Crossover” appeared in a book called Trapped and is told in script form.

The other two stories are told in regular prose format: “Make Maddie Mad” appeared in a book called First Crossings and is about two girls who approach cultural identity in different ways. This story felt a little heavy-handed in its message: “You are who you are when you’re mad”.

“Wishing It Away” appeared in a book called No Easy Answers and is about a teen whose way of handling trouble is to ignore it or wish it away. Of all the stories I read, this one most resembled Jumped because Belinda felt unlikable but real. Moreover, her reactions to life are messy.

As for the picture book, Catching the Wild Waiyuuzee, the story begins on the cover, where the Wild Waiyuuzee’s eyes peek out of a bush. On the first page, she sprints from her hiding place, trying to escape Shemama the Catcher. While clues to the Wild Waiyuuzee’s identity are given through the lavish illustrations, it took me a few reads to figure out what the story is about.

Because I wished to offer a round-up of Rita William-Garcia’s writings, I checked out everything I could find at my local libraries. When you start searching out works by Rita Williams Garcia, do check out her novels. This is where her strength lies. Some will disturb you. They will feel as real as the travails at your local high school. Others you will connect to and feel inspired by their end.

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