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TELL US WE'RE HOME

Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 10 years, 3 months ago

8 May 2010 TELL US WE'RE HOME by Marina Budhos, Atheneum, May 2010, 297p., ISBN: 978-1-4169-0352-9

 

"Who's gonna build your wall boys?

Who's gonna mow your lawn?

Who's gonna cook your Mexican food

When your Mexican maid is gone? 

 

Who's gonna wax the floors tonight

Down at the local mall?

Who's gonna wash your baby's face?

Who's gonna build your wall?"

-- Tom Russell

 

"And even deeper, she wanted to know Mrs. Harmon's secret: How do you feel like you belong?  Do you have to live in a place for hundreds of years, your pale skin and wispy hair the same as those who came before?  Do you need to know that the ground is sure beneath you?"

 

TELL US WE'RE HOME by Marina Budhos is a devastating powerful story that quietly sliced me up and left me bleeding.

 

I've experienced the discomfort of feeling like I don't belong.  I don't know why certain kids seem to develop an inclination toward exclusion and seem determined to make sure others know that they don't belong.  It's certainly not a universal thing: Other kids just as surely develop an inclination toward inclusion.

 

I feel like some kids, even if they owned a forest, would still have a cow over any other kid picking up a fallen leaf.  "That's from MY tree!" they'd scold.  What causes a person to demand that walls are built to keep everyone else out; that not a cent of THEIR money go to anyone in need; that those who are different should stay away or go away?

 

I know from reading history that those perceived as outsiders tend to get used as scapegoats and excuses for bigger troubles, and are targeted and blamed even more so than usual in times of economic stress.  Like today:   

 

"But this year something was different in Meadowbrook, a feeling, an unease, an edge of chill eating away at the sweet, good spring days.  Especially with so much going bad.  FOR SALE signs were springing up like mushrooms after a rain.  In the park all the nannies were talking about the layoffs and who'd gotten fired or had their hours cut back.  The 'other side' of Haley Avenue was creeping up, salsa blaring from some shop where they sold international calling cards.  Women in veils walking right past the old barber shop, now an African hair-braiding shop.  "And then the sorest point: the day laborers, who waited every morning in the parking lot on Jessup Lane.  Nobody liked how they looked -- caps pulled low over their eyes, hands pushed into their spattered dirty jeans, crushed Styrofoam cups and cigarette butts left on the asphalt..."

 

TELL US WE'RE HOME is a contemporary middle school/younger-end YA novel that wildly succeeds on so many levels.  It's a great tale of friendship between three eighth grade girls -- Jaya, Maria, and Lola.  These three girls are members of immigrant families in which they each have parents who clean for and care for the kids of others in an upscale suburban New Jersey community.  It is a story that incorporates details of the current economic crisis.  It is a story of the American Dream in the Twenty-first century.  It is a story about status and entitlement.  It is a story that -- given the total absence of language and promiscuity -- could be taught in any middle school.  (If there is even a kiss in the book, it's a parent's kiss good night.)

 

TELL US WE'RE HOME reveals the stresses under which this trio of girlfriends lives as each girl's immigrant family struggles to survive economically in Meadowbrook.  The tension is heightened as the girls and their families repeatedly face painful situations in which there is a sense of exclusion, whether they be the result of the girls' own unmet desires to be like everybody else or instances resulting from the sense of entitlement that other characters seem to possess as they let the immigrants know that they don't really belong in this town or don't have an equal right to enjoy its assets. 

 

"Her cheek stung, hot.  He swung again, only this time she managed to wriggle away, just as his knuckles hit Sheetrock, plaster crumbling.  Renaldo paused, a confused sorrow in his eyes. "At that moment she hated Renaldo.  Not because he'd hurt her.  Because maybe he was right.  This country was full of hard stuff and hard people.  A place where maids could lose their jobs over stupid earrings.  Where high school boys beat up Mexicans.  Where you didn't have good friends.  And the angels were no more than hollow plaster."

 

Having a long memory of how it felt to sometimes have my attire mocked (while trying to fit in with the middle grade version of Sixties fashion), I can sympathize with the girls' discomfort over having to show up wearing hand-me-downs from classmates that have been passed on from employer parent to employee parent.   

 

"Who may enter it?

"A true public space is open to all people -- whether they live locally or are strangers from afar..."

-- from WATCH THIS SPACE: DESIGNING, DEFENDING AND SHARING PUBLIC SPACES by Hadley Dyer and Marc Ngui, ill., Kids Can Press, 2010.

 

So much of what really tore me up about this story had to do with that sense of entitlement that some of the story's characters -- both teens and adults -- seem to possess so many decades after the deaths of Emmett and Medgar and Martin.  I thought that part of the Civil Rights Movement had to do with everyone being able to slurp from the same drinking fountain and play on the same park lawn (and for the first kid in line to get to slurp first).  But an ugly and pivotal scene that plays out in the park in TELL US WE'RE HOME is just all too plausible given the exclusionary sentiments one regularly encounters in the news these days.  

 

"Ah, but ain't that America for you and me"

-- John Mellencamp

 

In the end, it all comes back around to a wise old lady, Abigail Harmon, who knows and demonstrates that when it comes to having and sharing a sense of belonging, opening one's heart and tearing down walls is where it's at.

 

Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com

BudNotBuddy@aol.com

Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/middle_school_lit/ 

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http://slisweb.sjsu.edu/people/faculty/partingtonr/partingtonr.php

 

FTC NOTICE: Richie receives free books from lots of publishers who hope he will Pick their books.  You can figure that any review was written after reading and dog-earring a free copy received.  Richie retains these review copies for his rereading pleasure and for use in his booktalks at schools and libraries

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