Friday, January 15, 2010

Middle-Grade Review: I Wanna Be Your Shoebox

Yumi Ruiz-Hirsch, the star of I Wanna Be Your Shoebox by Cristina Garcia, is one of my favorite characters to come along in a middle-grade novel in a long time. She’s an eighth grader in southern California struggling to deal with too many changes in her life:

Don’t you wish sometimes that everything could stay the same forever? A perfect moment stretched out for the rest of your life? Why do things always have to change so much anyway?

My name is Yumi Ruiz-Hirsch, and my grandfather is dying. It feels funny to call him “my grandfather” because from the time I could talk, he insisted I call him Saul. Nobody else I know calls their grandparents by their real names. Saul is Jewish, and my grandmother is Japanese and she’s twenty-five years younger than him. Her name is Hiroko, and I call her by her first name, too. When I tried calling my mother “Silvia,” she refused to answer me. She’s Cuban (with a little Guatemalan thrown in), and nobody in her family calls their elders by their first names. Mom says this mix of identities makes me a poster child for the twenty-first century.

In addition to her beloved grandfather dying, Yumi’s mom has a new boyfriend and wants to move, and her school orchestra is being cut because of a lack of funds. Yumi splits her time between her mom’s house, her punk rocker dad’s loft, and Saul and Hiroko’s apartment. Life is in turmoil for her, but as Saul tells her, the choice is either to sit and watch or join the dance.

Yumi narrates most of the novel, but her parts are interspersed with passages where Saul is telling her his life story:

I spent a few years living hand to mouth in New York. I wasn’t much older than you are now. What are your responsibilities? Cleaning your room? Doing your homework? Luxuries, little one. Yeah, you might be forced to move, but your mother’s alive, ain’t she? And she loves you, right? You don’t know how good things are until you lose them. That’s what I’m telling you – appreciate what you got, kid. I know there’s lots of changes happening right now, but it might just work out for the best. You never know how closing one door can open another.

I just loved Yumi’s close relationship with her grandfather and their long talks together. This endearing novel is warm and funny, with likable, quirky characters who stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.

198 pages, Simon & Schuster

Ages 8-14

Accelerated Reader Level 5.1, 7 points

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