Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tell Us We're Home by Marina Budhos

Synopsis from B&, Maria, and Lola are just like the other eighth-grade girls in the wealthy suburb of Meadowbrook, New Jersey. They want to go to the spring dance, they love spending time with their best friends after school, sharing frappÉs and complaining about the other kids. But there’s one big difference: all three are daughters of maids and nannies. And they go to school with the very same kids whose families their mothers work for.

That difference grows even bigger—and more painful—when Jaya’s mother is accused of theft and Jaya’s small, fragile world collapses.

When tensions about immigrants start to erupt, fracturing this perfect, serene suburb, all three girls are tested, as outsiders—and as friends. Each of them must learn to find a place for themselves in a town that barely notices they exist.
Marina Budhos gives us a heartbreaking and eye-opening story of friendship, belonging, and finding the way home.

My Thoughts:
Overall, I enjoyed the novel Tell Us We're Home.  I appreciated that Budhos included the stories of three girls from different minority backgrounds.  Maria from Mexico, Jaya from Trinidad, and Lola from Slovakia.  She didn't rely on stereotypes for the background stories of the girls.  They had unique families who I think are shown struggling with issues that many American families face.  Depression, money issues, unemployment.

As a minority who grew up in a mostly middle-upper class, mostly-white community, I was able to emphathize with the characters of Jaya, Maria, and Lola.  The only difference for me was that I felt untied to any culture in particular, and struggled to figure out how I fit into my environment at school and with friends.  I had to learn a lot from observing others in how to act, talk, and develop.  I think I still struggle with issues of culture, even as an adult, living in the same area I grew up, but teaching students who come from a more culturally rich background and maybe expect me to share their history - which I (in some ways, unfortunately) don't.

She touched on one nerve that really hit home for me and spoke truths that I didn't realize I held. This scene describes Maria at the home of a sympathetic, well-off boy who she is tutoring in Spanish.  This is her first visit to his home:

"She noticed, hanging on one wall, large framed black-and-white photographs of a little boy - Tash, she realized. They weren't the usual snapshots or posed pictures her own family took at the photography studio in Union City, all the cousins in frilly dresses and suits, gathered stiffly before a frosted blue backdrop.  These were like glamorous Ralph Lauren advertisements.  Tash at the beach pushing his toes into the sand; close-up Tash laughing on a swimg; moody shirtless teenage Tash reading on a screened-in porch.  All together they made a silent film story of Tash, its plotline clear: This boy's life is marvelous and picturesque.  It gave Maria a tiny sore pain, realizing how this was another way to be rich.  His parents gave him back his own self, strung from these beautiful images, and crafted into a story.  It's as if they were saying, This is who you are to the world.  Everything about you matters."


In the Classroom:
This book is appropriate for middle school girls.  There are one or two instances of questionable language, but other than that, the situations and dialogue are appropriate for middle grades. I would put it on my classroom shelf.

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