Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Far from Gringo Land

"The bell he hears, its single note rolling over the town, leaves him hypnotized. Somehow it captures each moment, traps it, and preserves it like a bug in amber. Rick finds that he can't imagine doing anything but what he's doing now; he doesn't want to do anything else, and he can't believe he ever has. He has always sat up here, feeling the warm breeze on his neck, smelling the aroma of tortillas wafting up from Emiliana's kitchen, feeling the crinkle of the newsprint and the grain of the wood at his fingertips, hearing the endless toll of that lone, low, slow bell."

Title: Far from Gringo Land

Author: Edward Myers

ISBN: 978-0-547-05630-2

Publisher: Clarion Books

Copyright: 2009

Plot Summary: Far from Gringo Land begins with Rick sitting in the town square in Santo Domingo, where he is to spend his entire summer polishing his Spanish and helping the Romeros build a new house on their property. Already exhausted, he wanders down the streets, asking for directions while pulling his luggage along behind him. When he finally finds the right house, the Romeros welcome him warmly and Rick realizes he has nothing to worry about. Other than the enormously back-breaking work, as the Romeros consist of the father Julio, the mother Emiliana, and the son Francisco. Julio, Francisco, and Rick have to haul all the raw materials down the narrow lane leading to the home from the main road before even starting the construction. Each step results in Rick's body aching from exhaustion but energizing his spirit as the house slowly takes shape. He bumps into an American girl who lives in the rich side of Santo Domingo and tries to court her even as la obra struggles through bad weather, low funds, and dangerous accidents.

Critical Evaluation: Far from Gringo Land is an interesting look into a topic that teens have heard about but provides them with an easy-going narrator and a first-hand account of what life could be like in other countries and how much it varies from life in the United States. As far as the plot line goes, Myers deviates from the typical fish-out-of-water story, continuously throwing new setbacks and problems in Rick's path. Even when he feels like he is stronger and his Spanish improved, he still is not accepted by the other Mexicans in the town. Even romantically, he does not immediately ensnare his love interest's heart and has to struggle to do so. Regarding his construction abilities and strength, Julio and Francisco are both superior to him. The dialog within the novel was entertaining but could have included more Spanish phrases for the reader to learn. The supporting characters were all detailed and their interaction with Rick were well-done and realistic.

Reader's Annotation: Rick Dresner is taking his summer vacation in Mexico with family friends. In return for helping him polish his Spanish skills, Rick will help them build a house on their property and throw himself into the life in a small Mexican town.

Information About the Author: Edward Myers is mainly known for his children's books. Myers has published twenty-six titles, ten of which are for children. He was born into a multicultural family and grew up between Colorado, Mexico, and Peru.
Myers currently lives in northern New Jersey with his wife and children. Read more about the author at his website. (Biography taken from Far from Gringo Land's dust jacket).

Genre: Fiction; Romance; American-Mexican relations; Mexico

Curriculum Ties: World Habitat Day (Habitat for Humanities, first Monday in October)

Booktalking Ideas:
  • How does Rick's generosity show throughout the novel? This can include his generosity with his time and body, offering his last summer vacation to help out a family, as well as his monetary generosity that he offers without being condescending.
Reading Level: 15+

Challenge Issues: N/A

Why This Book?: Staff recommendation

Reference Page:
Myers, E. (2009). Far from Gringo Land. New York: Clarion Books.

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