Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Ana María Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle by Hilda Eunice Burgos

Eleven year old Ana María lives in a two bedroom apartment in Washington Heights in upper Manhattan with her parents, older sister Gracie, 13, and younger sisters Rosie, 6, and Connie, 3. Ana's parents are from the Dominican Republic, and although their children have never been there, they are proud of their heritage. Her father, a graduate of Columbia Law School, is a public assistance lawyer, so the Reyes family needs to watch their money carefully.

Ana is very smart and talented and it is assumed by her family that she will be accepted into and attend Bronx High School of Science, one of NYC's elite public schools. But on the day her sixth grade counselor gives her an application packet to apply for a full scholarship to the Eleanor School, the prestigious private school that Ana's best friend attends, Ana's parents announce that they are expecting another baby. And unlike the rest of her family, Ana is not happy about it.

Ana is also an accomplished pianist and when she shows up for her next lesson with her teacher, Doña Dulce, she finds three people from the Piano Teachers' Association already there. They have invited Doña Dulce to bring two students to their Winter Showcase to be held at Lincoln Center. Ana hopes to be one of the two, thinking it would definitely help with her Eleanor School application.

Into this mix, comes Tia Nona on the arm of fiancé Juan Miguel, announcing her upcoming wedding in the Dominican Republic and she wants the whole Reyes family to be there, and Ana, with whom she has a close relationship, to play the piano. And Tia Nona is willing to pay everyone's airfare to make sure they are there when she gets married.

The Reyes sisters are thrilled to meet their relatives in the DR and it proves to be a real eye-opening trip for Ana. Tia Nona, who is a doctor, is quite well off, living in a large home with servants, including a young girl Ana's age, and whose family lives in poverty. But when she sees her aunt mistreating the girl, Ana begins to look at the world a little differently.

Ana María slowly learns that her choices and her actions all have consequences - some good, others not so good. How all of this plays out over the course of approximately 6 to 7 months will keep young readers turning pages.

This is a lively book with a lot going on. And while I really enjoyed reading it, I didn't much like Ana María at first. She was a little selfish and self-centered, but as I read, I noticed how she was changing and becoming more aware of the world around her, realizing that some people's circumstances were much worse than hers - she was surrounded by a loving, supportive family and although they couldn't afford much, they did what they could and it was usually done with love. Not everyone has that, Ana discovers.

Burgos has peopled Ana María's world with characters who are realistically and vividly drawn, bringing out their different personalities (no easy task when you are writing about four sisters, each with their own, very individual personality) and their Dominican culture to life. I've lived in NYC my whole life, I love its diversity, and I thought Burgos captured the Reyes' Washington Heights neighbors to a T.

Ana María Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle is an engaging novel that tackles a variety of themes, such as the importance of education, family, living in a bi-cultural world, community, alcoholism, and abuse. But there is a lot of love and neighborliness to balance it all out and prevent the story from overwhelming the reader. 

There is a very detailed, very useful Teacher's Guide provided by the publisher, Lee & Low, that can be downloaded HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from a friend

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