By Jo Ann Yolanda Hernández
Piñata Books, Houston, TX 1997
Reviewed by Ruth J. Hartman, Author of "My Life in Mental Chains"
Luz has to deal with the jealousy from the girl at her school who came in second place in the spelling bee. Through this, you can see the definite dividing lines between race and culture among the children as well as the adults. Many a reviewer has accused Hernandez of “not liking” whites and painting them in uncharacteristic light, yet the author invites readers into the class structure and struggles that propels the girl’s mother’s reaction. When someone accuses Luz of cheating during the spelling bee, it’s apparent who’s on Luz’s side and who is hoping she’ll fail. The reasons varied dependent on the person’s life experiences.
While the focal point of the story is the spelling bee, the novel takes you back in time to when the story’s adults were younger, and how events in their lives shaped their personalities and beliefs. These events also come into play as you see each person’s reaction to Luz’s accomplishments. You’re drawn in to each individual’s thoughts and dreams for the future and whether or not these dreams came true for them later on.
Throughout the story, Hernández weaves wonderful Latino customs and heritage into their everyday lives. I could actually visualize Luz’s grandmother when, as a young woman, she stood over the blazing restaurant stove and made her delicious homemade tortillas for customers who couldn’t possibly appreciate how hard her job was, or the conditions in which she was forced to work. And I experienced fear along with this character when a frightening event temporarily took her away from her family. This chapter, standing alone, has won several first prizes.
You’ll cheer for Luz as she follows her dream of competing in the state bee, even as others try to talk her out of it, or in some cases, actually attempt to stop her. She perseveres even in the face of others’ jealousy and fear. Her bravery and confidence are good examples for young people and adults alike.
White Bread Competition won 2nd place winner for Best Collection of Short Stories at the Chicano/Latino Literary Prize at the University of California, Irving, Department of Portuguese and Spanish in 1996, should be on everyone’s reading list. I came away with a greater understanding of Latino heritage, and I am richer for the experience. Jo Ann Hernández is a terrific writer, drawing you into her wonderful world of love and family values, while weaving an intriguing tale of one young girl’s dream for the future.
Ruth J. Hartman
Author of "My Life in Mental Chains"
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"My Life in Mental Chains": http://www.supamasu.co.uk/glos.html (scroll down to book)