Lucky Broken Girl
Lucky Broken Girl
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Annotation: In 1960s New York, fifth-grader Ruthie, a Cuban-Jewish immigrant, must rely on books, art, her family, and friends in her multicultural neighborhood when an accident puts her in a body cast.
Catalog Number: #6137708
Format: Paperback
All Formats: Search
Publisher: Penguin
Copyright Date: 2018
Edition Date: 2018
Pages: 257 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: 0-399-54645-6
ISBN 13: 978-0-399-54645-7
Dewey: Fic
LCCN: 2016022378
Dimensions: 20 cm.
Language: English
Reviews:
ALA Booklist
Ruthie is excited e's been promoted from the "special" fifth-grade class, her father bought her a pair of go-go boots, and her family has a brand new Oldsmobile. But on the way back from Staten Island, the Mizrahis are involved in a massive car accident, leaving Ruthie in a full-body cast. As she spends more than a year incapacitated, Ruthie questions life, especially when a neighbor's young son tragically dies, but gradually begins to see the good side of everything. From facing feelings about the boys who caused her accident, to finding herself in painting and writing, to learning that she isn't "slow" just because English isn't her first language, Ruthie faces everything with an impressive inner strength. Fans of character-driven middle-grade novels, particularly those looking for diverse books, should be easily charmed by Behar's story, which is inspired by her own childhood as a Cuban immigrant in 1960s New York and her first-hand experience of surviving a car crash and spending a year in a full-body cast (an author's note offers some illuminating details).
Horn Book
In this unflinchingly honest novel based on the author's childhood, Ruthie is just ten years old in 1966 when she arrives in Queens from Cuba with her family. After breaking her leg in a car accident, she remains immobile in bed for almost a year. When her neighbor introduces her to drawing and painting, she begins to heal emotionally. Effectively scattered Spanish phrases lend authenticity.
Publishers Weekly
Set in 1966, this strongly sketched novel, adult author Behar-s first for children, focuses on a 10-year-old Cuban immigrant whose injury forces a prolonged convalescence and rehabilitation. The story begins with Ruthie Mizrahi moving up from the -dumb class- (where she learned English) to the -regular fifth grade class- at her school in New York City. However, a car accident leaves Ruthie so severely injured that she spends almost a year sequestered in her room in a body cast (-My bed is my island; my bed is my prison; my bed is my home-). Readers will get a powerful sense of the historical setting through Ruthie-s narration, but the novel is perhaps defined even more by her family-s status as immigrants and by its memorable multicultural cast. Some dialogue can ring false (-I am a bit of a hippie. I believe in peace, love, and flower power,- explains the tutor sent to work with Ruthie), but Behar successfully juggles several engaging plot threads, and Ruthie-s complicated relationship with her mother, given the demands of her care, is especially compelling. Ages 10-up. Agent: Alyssa Eisner Henkin, Trident Media Group. (Apr.)

School Library Journal
Gr 4&11;6&12; Ruthie's English skills have finally gotten her promoted to the "smart" fifth grade class, and she's the "hopscotch queen of Queens" this week. Her family are still struggling with their recent move from Cuba, but she has a strong family network, some new friends, and a pair of brand-new white go-go boots. When a car accident leaves her in a body cast, Ruthie is scared, lonely, angry, and confused. The year that she spends healing in bed is one of growing up, of hard times and good friends, and of new skills and the determination to be herself in her new country. Behar's first middle grade novel, a fictionalized telling of her own childhood experiences in the 1960s, is a sweet and thoughtful read, slowly but strongly paced, and filled with a wealth of detail that makes the characters live. Both poetic and straightforward, this title will appeal to young readers with its respect for their experiences and its warm portrayal of a diverse community. In addition to Ruthie's realistic and personal voice, the novel's strength is in its complex portrayal of the immigrant experience, with overlapping stories of who goes and who comes and the paths they travel. VERDICT Recommended and relatable. Hand this to fans of Rita Williams-Garcia and those who loved The Secret Garden.&12;Katya Schapiro, Brooklyn Public Library
Starred Review for Kirkus Reviews
In the 1960s, Ruthie Mizrahi, a young Jewish Cuban immigrant to New York City, spends nearly a year observing her family and friends from her bed. Before the accident, Ruthie's chief goals are to graduate out of the "dumb class" for remedial students, to convince her parents to buy her go-go boots, and to play hopscotch with other kids in her Queens apartment building. But after Papi's Oldsmobile is involved in a fatal multicar collision, Ruthie's leg is severely broken. The doctor opts to immobilize both legs in a body cast that covers Ruthie from chest to toes. Bedridden and lonely, Ruthie knows she's "lucky" to be alive, but she's also "broken." She begins collecting stories from her Jewban grandparents; her fellow young immigrant friends, Belgian Danielle and Indian Ramu; her "flower power" tutor, Joy; and her vibrant Mexican neighbor, Chicho, an artist who teaches her about Frida Kahlo. Ruthie also prays and writes letters to God, Shiva, and Kahlo, asking them for guidance, healing, and forgiveness. A cultural anthropologist and poet, the author based the book on her own childhood experiences, so it's unsurprising that Ruthie's story rings true. The language is lyrical and rich, the intersectionality—ethnicity, religion, class, gender—insightful, and the story remarkably engaging, even though it takes place primarily in the island of Ruthie's bedroom. A poignant and relevant retelling of a child immigrant's struggle to recover from an accident and feel at home in America. (Historical fiction. 10-13)
Voice of Youth Advocates
Ruthie Mizrahi faces challenges big and small—from trying to convince her New York teacher that she should be in the “smart class” despite her difficulty with English as a Cuban refugee to her passionate desire for go-go boots, which will help her look glamorous among her friends. But, when a car accident leaves Ruthie bedridden in a body cast for nearly a year, she starts to see the world differently. She makes heartfelt connections with incredible people, such as her friend Ramu, who must return to India when his brother dies in a tragic accident, or her “flower-power” tutor, who inspires her with stories of Nancy Drew, José Martí, Martin Luther King Jr., Frida Kahlo, and others. Just as adjusting to the small island of her room is challenging, so is finding the courage to rejoin the larger outside world and embrace the life in front of her.
Word Count: 49,919
Reading Level: 4.2
Interest Level: 5-9
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 4.2 / points: 7.0 / quiz: 188393 / grade: Middle Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:4.2 / points:14.0 / quiz:Q70628
Lexile: 670L
Guided Reading Level: W
Fountas & Pinnell: W
Chapter 1: I am not dumb

When we lived in Cuba, I was smart. But when we got to Queens, in New York City, in the United States of America, I became dumb, just because I couldn't speak English.
      So I got put in the dumb class in fifth grade at P.S. 117. It's the class for the bobos, the kids who failed at math and read­ing. Also in it are the kids the teachers call "delinquents." They come to school late and talk back and are always chew­ing gum. Even though they're considered the bad kids, most of them are nice to me. "Here, Ruthie, have some Chiclets!" they whisper and pass me a handful.
     We aren't supposed to chew gum in school, so we hold the Chiclets in our mouths until we go outside for recess. Then we chew the Chiclets to death and stick the gook on the bottom of our desks when we come back inside.
     Most of the kids know I'm in this class because I'm from another country, not because I really belong there. Or maybe I do belong there? It's been eight months since school started and our teacher promised I wouldn't be in the class for long.
     I am not dumb. I am not dumb. I am not dumb . . .
     The first time I worked up the courage to raise my hand in class was a few weeks after we had arrived from Cuba and I was wearing flip-flops instead of shoes and socks like the other kids. But when our teacher, Mrs. Sarota, called on me to answer the math problem, I didn't have the words to say the number in English.
     "Well, Ruth?" she asked, staring down at my bare feet. "Do you know the answer or not?"
     I froze and a few kids laughed at me. But not Ramu.
     He's not dumb either. Ramu is in our class because he's also from a different country. He comes from India and was raised there by his grandmother, who only speaks a language called Bengali. His parents came to New York first, and after they made enough money, they brought Ramu and his little brother, Avik, here.
     Ramu has picked up English faster than I have because his parents know English and force him to speak it at home. Mine are always yelling, "¡Habla en español!" Especially Mami, who can understand a little English, but is usually too embarrassed to try to speak it.
     Ramu is skinny and bows his head when anyone talks to him. I'm his only friend and that's because he lives down the hall from us on the sixth floor of our apartment building. Ramu brings Avik to school and I bring my brother, Izzie. Our little brothers are in the same kindergarten class. But af­ter school Ramu and Avik rush straight home. Mrs. Sharma doesn't let them play with the other children.
     Their apartment smells different from ours. I get whiffs of it whenever we stumble into each other on the way to school. Today when Ramu and Avik stepped into the hall, Izzie and I were waiting for the elevator, and I asked, "What is that perfume?"
     "It's my mother's curry," Ramu says.
     "What's curry?"
     "A spice. It makes everything taste good, even cauliflower."
     "That's amazing."
     "Yes, it is. And my mother burns sandalwood incense. She says it's good for meditation and the spirits like it too."
     "Spirits?"
     "People who used to be alive, when they're not alive anymore, become spirits. My grandmother says they are all around us. We can't see them but they watch over us. Of course, spirits don't eat, but they can smell fragrant things like curry and incense."
     During lunch at the cafeteria, Ramu offers me something from his lunch box, a pastry filled with mashed potatoes his mother made.
     "It's a samosa," Ramu tells me. "Maybe you'll find it too spicy."
     Some kids at the table pretend to hold their noses. One says, "It smells like sweaty armpits!"
     "No it doesn't!" I shout back.
     I take a slow first bite. It tastes like a papa rellena, a crispy stuffed potato my nanny Caro made for me as a snack in Cuba. Eating Ramu's samosa makes me feel like Caro and Cuba aren't so far away.
     "It's real good! Thanks, Ramu."
     Ramu gives me a shy smile. "Very glad you like it."
     I beg Mami to make pastelitos de guayaba after Izzie and I get home. The following day, I give Ramu one of the sweet pastries at lunch.
     "The filling is guava fruit. I hope you'll like it," I tell him.
     Ramu eats it slowly without saying a word. When he's done, he finally says, "I like guavas. We have them in India too," and I sigh.
     "And do you have mangos in India?"
     "Oh yes, drippy sweet mangos."
     "Just like in Cuba!"
     "I don't just miss the mangos," Ramu says. "I miss being able to go outside and play with friends. My mother worries too much about us. She doesn't let us do anything by our­selves."
     "I know what you mean. In Cuba, even when I was five years old, my mother used to let me take a taxi all by myself to go visit my aunt Zoila, who used to sew pretty dresses for me. Can you imagine?"
     "Yes, here everything is different," he says, with a faraway look in his eyes.
     "But maybe one day we'll both get to taste mangos in India and Cuba!" I say, trying to cheer him up.
     "Oh, Ruthie, I like that you have such an imagination!"

Ramu and I sit together every afternoon after lunch period so we can practice our English.
     Our favorite story is "The Princess Who Could Not Cry," about a princess who is placed under an evil spell and forgets how to cry. She laughs at everything, even sad things. When they toss away all the toys she loves from the tallest tower of the castle, she laughs, even though she feels terrible.
     A little ragged girl arrives and announces, "I've come to help the princess cry."
     The queen tells her, "Promise me you won't hurt my daughter."
     The little ragged girl curtsies and replies, "I promise, Your Majesty, I will bring no harm upon your daughter. I just want to help her."
     She goes into a room with the princess and draws two on­ions out of her bag.
     "Let's peel these onions," the little ragged girl tells the princess.
     As the little ragged girl and the princess pull apart the layers of the onions, the tears start pouring from both their eyes.
     That is how the princess learns to cry!
     The evil spell is broken, and the little ragged girl and her poor mother are given a nice house next to the castle where they live happily ever after.
     "That is the best story!" I say to Ramu as we finish read­ing aloud.
     "Yes, it's very fine," he replies. "Very fine indeed."
     "Ramu, you always talk such a fancy English."
     "Like they do in England. It's the Queen's English, you see."
     "Yes! And now we live in Queens!" I say, joking.
     "Very charming, Ruthie. That's almost funny."
     "Let's ask Mrs. Sarota to test us!" I tell Ramu.
     "But will you ask her, Ruthie, please? You see, in India, we don't talk to the teacher unless the teacher talks to us."
     "Okay, I will ask. I'm not afraid of the teacher."
     Mrs. Sarota comes to our desk and I say, "Me and Ramu are ready to switch into the smart class."
     "In English, we say 'Ramu and I.' 'Me and Ramu' is in­correct."
     I don't lose my courage. I repeat, "Ramu and I are ready to switch into the smart class."
     "Is that so, young lady? Both of you?"
     "Yeah, Mrs. Sarota," I reply, trying to keep from giggling. Mrs. Sarota wears her hair in a big bird nest on top of her head and today it's lopsided.
     "Very well, young lady. Which of you can spell the word 'commiserate'?"
     Ramu gets it wrong, but I get it right--two Ms and only one S.
     She doesn't ask, but I also know what the word means. To "commiserate" is to feel sorry for somebody else's bad luck.
     "Very good, Ruth. I agree you're ready to be promoted. But remember to say 'yes' rather than 'yeah.' On Monday, you can join the regular fifth-grade class."
     I see Ramu gazing sadly toward the floor. It's not fair. He's much better at English than I am. He talks like the Queen of England herself.
     "Please, Mrs. Sarota, can you give Ramu another chance? Give him a harder word and see if he can spell it. Please."
     Mrs. Sarota's eyes suddenly sparkle. "You said the magic word, 'please.' Ramu, can you spell the word 'souvenir'?"
     I would have gotten that word wrong, but Ramu knows how to spell it right.
     "Excellent job, Ramu. You are also promoted," Mrs. Sarota says. "On Monday, you and Ruth can join the regular fifth-grade class."
     "Mrs. Sarota, you are very kind," Ramu says in his most polite voice.
     Ramu gives me one of his shy smiles and that is enough of a thank-you for me.
     I knew I wasn't dumb. I knew Ramu wasn't dumb either.
     It's Friday. After the weekend, when we come back to school, both of us will be in our new class with the smart kids.
     Yippee!
     I collect my schoolbooks and say good-bye to the other kids. One of them looks sad that I'm leaving and gives me some Chiclets. "You may need them!"
     I wish all the kids could come with Ramu and me to the smart class. I don't think any of them are really dumb. They just find school boring. They'd rather play all day.
     In a chorus they call out, "Bye, Ruthie! Bye! Study hard or they'll send you back here again!"

Excerpted from Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Winner of the 2018 Pura Belpre Award!

“A book for anyone mending from childhood wounds.”—Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street

 
In this unforgettable multicultural coming-of-age narrative—based on the author’s childhood in the 1960s—a young Cuban-Jewish immigrant girl is adjusting to her new life in New York City when her American dream is suddenly derailed. Ruthie’s plight will intrigue readers, and her powerful story of strength and resilience, full of color, light, and poignancy, will stay with them for a long time.
 
Ruthie Mizrahi and her family recently emigrated from Castro’s Cuba to New York City. Just when she’s finally beginning to gain confidence in her mastery of English—and enjoying her reign as her neighborhood’s hopscotch queen—a horrific car accident leaves her in a body cast and confined her to her bed for a long recovery. As Ruthie’s world shrinks because of her inability to move, her powers of observation and her heart grow larger and she comes to understand how fragile life is, how vulnerable we all are as human beings, and how friends, neighbors, and the power of the arts can sweeten even the worst of times.


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