Nina Perez loved her small coastal town in the Dominican Republic. She
went to school and sold flowers to help out her mother. Nina had such a
green thumb, she was known as the flower girl, and she was proud of her
nickname. Her mother had high hopes for Nina, and when she worried that
her daughter was taking too much interest in handsome young tourists,
she sent her to Nueva York to live with her son, Darrio.
When the streets in Darrio's Washington Heights neighborhood turn out not to be paved with gold but are the home of drug dealers and scantily clad teens, Nina is more than homesick, she feels utterly out of place. And when she suspects the money her brother sends home every week is earned from shady dealings, she is scared for him and their future.
Lynn Joseph's Flowers in the Sky is a modern-day immigration story with a twist. Unlike most of the people Nina knew growing up, she doesn't want to come to America to marry a rich man. She is comfortable with who she is and finds joy every day. Her sadness comes only with the prospect of leaving the island and is deepened the first time she sees her brother's apartment, her new home:
It was like waking up on Christmas morning and finding nothing under the tree. Not even chocolate. The room was bare. Completely stark, as if it had been emptied of life to make room for what? Me? (p. 42)Thanks to the advice of one of the neighborhood grandmothers, Nina tries to make the best of things and even attempts to re-create her beloved garden on the fire escape outside her bedroom window.
Complicating matters are Darrio's secret means of making money and her attraction to Luis, an eighteen-year-old with a bad reputation. Unlike many teen books, Flowers in the Sky is not about an all-consuming love that cannot be denied. Nina's behavior with Luis seems true to a girl who was raised by a strict mother. In addition, her inability to act on what she learns about her brother is also realistic. She knows what he is doing is wrong, but she is at a loss of what to do both to help Darrio and to protect her mother from learning the truth about her son.
Flowers in the Sky is an engrossing tale of how a smart young girl finds her true self just when she thought she was falling apart:
And like glass exploding into hundreds of sharp pieces, my soul suddenly expanded from its fragile place into shards of truth. I had the answer to my question all the time. It was so simple. The most important thing of all is to live your life fully and not hold back. (p. 235)Although the novel is published under the HarperTeen imprint, I think its best audience is twelve- to fourteen-year-olds, who will have no trouble connecting to Nina and understanding her feelings. Book clubs, parents, and teachers will appreciate the reading guide questions on the HarperCollins site, which cover the major discussion topics, such as immigration, family expectations, education, and hopes and dreams for the future.
Note that the quotations included here are from an advanced readers copy of the book and may differ from the published edition.
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HarperCollins / HarperTeen, 2013
Source: Review (see review policy)
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