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Children's Literature Reviews
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Parrot in the oven : mi vida : a novel
by Victor Martinez.
Contributor biographical information
Publisher description
New York : HarperCollins Publishers, c1996.
216 p. ; 20 cm.


"Joanna Cotler books."
Manny relates his coming of age experiences as a member of a poor Mexican American family in which the alcoholic father only adds to everyone's struggle.

Best Books:

Adventuring with Books: A Booklist for PreK-Grade 6, 12th Edition, 1999 ; National Council of Teachers of English; United States
Books to Read Aloud to Children of All Ages, 2003 ; Bank Street College of Education; United States
Capitol Choices, 1996 ; The Capitol Choices Committee; United States
Children's Literature Choice List, 1997 ; Children's Literature; United States
Eureka! California in Children's Literature, 2003 ; Book Wholesalers, Inc.; United States
Horn Book Fanfare, 1996 ; Horn Book; United States
Publishers Weekly Best Children's Books, 1996 ; Cahners; United States
Publishers Weekly Book Review Stars, October 1996 ; Cahners; United States
Senior High Core Collection, Seventeenth Edition, 2007 ; The H. W. Wilson Co.; United States
Senior High School Library Catalog, Fifteenth Edition, 1997 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Senior High School Library Catalog, Sixteenth Edition, 2002 ; H.W. Wilson; United States

Awards, Honors, Prizes:

Americas Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature, 1996 Winner Fiction. Grades 9-12 United States
Americas Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature, 1996 Winner United States
National Book Award, 1996 Winner Young People's Literature United States
Pura Belpre Award, 1998 Winner Narrative United States
Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award, 1997 Nominee Texas

State and Provincial Reading Lists:

Tayshas High School Reading List, 1999-2000 ; Young Adult; Texas

Curriculum Tools:

Link to Reading Guides at HarperCollins

Reading Measurement Programs:

Reading Counts-Scholastic
Interest Level High School
Reading Level 7
Title Point Value 10
Lexile Measure 1000


Laura Tillotson (Booklist, October 15, 1996 (Vol. 93, No. 4))
For Mexican American teen Manuel, the main challenge in life, whether he always realizes it or not, is to find a reason to survive amid the negativity and emptiness that pervade his growing up in a city project. His father, unemployed and often drunk, is a source of tension for the whole family, especially Manuel's mother, whose determination to keep them all together is at times superhuman. The novel, written in a fluid, poetic language, resembles a series of vignettes more than one connected story; and this structure not only leaves the character development of Manuel and his family uneven but also generates a disjointedness that is occasionally confusing. There is also a general lack of basic information, such as the exact setting of the story and the ages of Manuel and his siblings, that may make the characters and their environment difficult for readers to visualize. However, the stories themselves, from Manuel's sister's miscarriage to his initiation into a gang to his grandmother's death, are not easily forgotten, and the book is worth purchasing for its authentic portrayal of a Hispanic teen's experiences. Category: Older Readers. 1996, HarperCollins/Joanna Cotler, $14.95 and $14.89. Gr. 7-10.

Sherri Byrand (Children's Literature)
Miracles don't wait for doubters," says Manny Hernandez, this book's main character and a youth worthy of our attention. This account of his life is a miracle of its own--powerful and poignant, stunning in its simplicity. Although it introduces some very heavy issues, including Manny's sister who miscarries her child at home and his father's alcoholism and abusiveness, its approach makes this book appropriate for even the youngest members of its intended audience. It never slips into the callous tones of a cynical adult; every page resonates with Manny's voice. Given the book's subject matters, it is an excellent resource for classroom discussion on the topics of spousal abuse, gangs, and racism. 1996, HarperCollins, $14.95 and $14.89. Ages 12 up.

CCBC (Cooperative Children's Book Center Choices, 1996)
Manny is smart; sometimes he thinks he might be smart enough to make it out of his struggling neighborhood to a life beyond poverty, beyond the threat of apathy and violence. In his emotionally torn family, the tension of racism and economic oppression plays itself out: his father drinks to combat frustration, his brother can't keep a job, his sisters are experiencing too much too soon, and his mother strives to hold them all together even as she sometimes seems close to unraveling herself. But despite the strain in his family, Manny finds home is a place of refuge compared to the uncertainty of the outside world. The Mexican-American teenager's observations of a life filled with tension and fragile possibility are not without humor or hope, but it is his honesty in describing the experiences that unfold that gives powerful shape to his narrative voice. CCBC categories: Fiction for Teenagers. 1996, Joanna Cotler/HarperCollins, 216 pages, $14.95. Ages 16-adult.

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, 1996)
A whirlwind of surprising similes and inventive turns of phrase colorfully frame this grim, ultimately tender story, subtitled "Mi Vida," about a young Chicano getting his priorities straight. It's a tough year for the Hernandez family: Manny's father is jailed after threatening his mother with a rifle, his older sister, Magda, is seeing someone on the sly, and his brother, Nardo, has taken to coming home drunk. Manny accidentally shoots at his little sister while fooling around with his father's gun and later watches as Magda miscarries on the bathroom floor. Still, he regards his family with affection and relates the disasters, along with other incidents away from home--not so much to deliver indictments as to open a window on the values, dreams, and tribulations that shape his life. Martinez's language is so lively it sometimes barrels beyond his control, calling attention to itself with a steady barrage of extravagant images ("blocks of fat sagged on her hips like a belt of thick Bibles") and challenging metaphors ("Mom's shrieks chased away the panicked air; Dad's voice was coarse paper shredding to pieces"). There are also occasional (deliberate?) misuses, as when Nardo makes "hairline escapes." The picture Manny paints of his world is not a pretty one, but it is unusually vibrant. 1996, HarperCollins, $14.95; PLB $14.89. © 1996 Kirkus Reviews/VNU eMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly)
In his debut novel, set in a dusty California town, Martinez employs a series of compelling, frequently troubling vignettes to illuminate a Mexican American boy's coming of age. It's not easy for Manuel Hernandez to discover his place in the world, especially when he is constantly bombarded with the hardships of his poor and woefully dysfunctional family. Their tiny sheetrock house in the projects is the scene of angry arguments-even of threats at rifle point. Manny steps onto a battlefield at every turn, whether he is collecting his alcoholic and violent father from the local pool hall, withstanding the ethnic slurs of white school mates, or seeking initiation into a neighborhood gang. But as the months pass and some of his wounds heal, Manny slowly begins to understand the sense of self that he can derive from his role within this difficult household. The tense prose and often biting dialogue bring into razor-sharp focus the frustration and bitterness of a struggling family; at the same time, Manny's first-person narrative is tinged with compassion and, indeed, love for the unstable people around him. Martinez's honest voice, and descriptions sprinkled with elegant imagery, offer a rare and consummately believable portrait of barrio life. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)

Rob Linné (The ALAN Review, Fall 1997 (Vol. 25, No. 1))
Manny Hernandez endures a lot during the year that leads up to his initiation into a California gang. He learns about hard work out in the sweltering vegetable fields and experiences class stratification at a high school party where he is not welcomed. Manny helps his older sister through a life-threatening miscarriage but almost takes his younger brother's life when he accidentally fires his father's shotgun. The young protagonist narrates all of these events with a future writer's eye for detail and a unique take on human character. Martinez's coming-of-age story reads like true adolescence -- absurd and funny from a distance, yet painful when you're stuck in the middle of it all. I already lost one afternoon to this bitter-sweet book and now I've picked it up again. I think many reluctant readers would also have a hard time turning away once Manny started talking straight to them about what growing up is really all about. 1996, HarperCollins, 216 pp., $14.95. Ages 12 up.

Jennifer Norris (The ALAN Review, Spring 1999 (Vol. 26, No. 3))
Filled with enough metaphors to impress any English teacher, Parrot in the Oven: mi vida is a story told by a teenage Mexican American boy, Manny, who is attempting to find his place in a society full of disappointment. Set in the projects, Manny gives a very realistic account of what it is like to grow up as a minority in a poor, dysfunctional home. Receiving no real direction from his family, Manny battles with what type of man he should and will become. He is tempted by gang life (in his attempt to be accepted somewhere), but at the same time, he seems to have a pure heart that prohibits him from falling too far. The coming of age plot is further complicated by Manny's family life. His father is an out of work alcoholic who is incapable of giving guidance to his floundering son. His mother is the peace-keeper, mainly concerned with damage control. His older brother (who has a steady stream of jobs that don't ever seem to work out) seems to be on the same path as his alcoholic father. His teen-age sister deals with sexual issues including the miscarriage of her baby. With themes such as honor, abuse, and alcoholism, this coming of age novel is very readable for upper middle/high school students; however, teachers should be aware of the controversial issues within the novel: drugs, alcohol, language, and the graphic miscarriage. Because of the novel's extremely realistic teenage voice, this novel is reminiscent of S. E. Hinton's Tex or The Outsiders and therefore would definitely gain the interest of the high school reader. 1996, HarperTrophy, 216 pages, $5.95. Ages 12 up.

Janice M. Del Negro (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December 1996 (Vol. 50, No. 4))
Manny, a Latino high school student, narrates a few months' worth of events affecting his family and his future. His father has lost his job because of alcoholism, his older brother Nardo won't work, his sister Magda is seeing a boy on the side, and his mother is trying to hold it all together. Manny's responses and reactions unite a series of related vignettes, from his father going after his mother with a rifle, to a truly horrific scene where Manny thinks he has shot his baby sister Pida, to Manny's initiation into a half-baked gang. Reading this book is so intimately revelatory it's like moving into someone's house. Martinez' deceptively straightforward prose is rich with poetic turns of phrase, and his ability to communicate the environment and dynamics of this family-their struggles with poverty, racism, and violence-makes his writing startlingly visceral. Manny's close call with the police and his realization that chance and small choices decide our lives is an epiphanic conclusion. R--Recommended. (c) Copyright 1996, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 1996, Cotler/HarperCollins, 216p, $14.89 and $14.95. Grades 9-12.


Family life Fiction.
Alcoholism Fiction.
Mexican Americans Fiction.
LanguageCall NumberLCCNDewey DecimalISBN/ISSN
English (eng) PZ7.M36718 Par 1996
96002119 [Fic]
0060267062 (lib. bdg.)
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