Summary: When twelve-year-old Izzy discovers a beat-up baseball marked with the words "Because…magic" while unpacking in yet another new apartment, she is determined to figure out what it means. What secrets does this old ball have to tell? Her mom certainly isn't sharing any—especially when it comes to Izzy's father, who died before Izzy was born. But when she spends the summer in her Nana's remote New Mexico village, Izzy discovers long-buried secrets that come alive in an enchanted landscape of watermelon mountains, whispering winds, and tortilla suns. Infused with the flavor of the southwest and sprinkled with just a pinch of magic, this heartfelt middle grade debut is as rich and satisfying as Nana's homemade enchiladas. -- Chronicle Books
TORTILLA SUN by Jennifer Cervantes is a wonderful novel for middle graders! I thoroughly enjoyed this story because it was partly a coming-of-age tale (and I do love those types of books). But I also found myself loving other parts of the story -- especially the magical ones. It truly is a gem of a book that is guaranteed to please both kids and adults.
One of the main reasons that I enjoyed this book so much is because I fell in love with the character of Izzy. I found Izzy to be very believable, and I think tween girls not only will fall in love with Izzy like I did, but they will relate to her in many ways too. Izzy is a normal tween -- she is smart, funny, and very creative. But she has also has had to deal with a lot of things that aren't so typical. Her father died before she was born, and her mother has never really talked about him or her past with Izzy. In addition, she has had to move around a lot and start new schools and make new friends (I could really relate to this part of her character.) When Izzy has to move to New Mexico and live with her Nana for a few months because of her mom's job, it's natural that Izzy doesn't want to go. But it's her visit to a small village in New Mexico which allows Izzy to truly learn about herself and heritage.
I'm sure that Izzy had always wondered about her family and especially her father; but I think at 12 years old, Izzy is at the age where she really wants to know about her background. When she discovers a baseball with some writing on it, she suspects that the baseball and handwriting might have belonged to her father, and finding out about her past suddenly becomes more urgent. The baseball has the words, "Because....magic," and Izzy becomes determined to find out what the missing word is and what it all means. So there is actually a little element of mystery in this novel too!
Even though the book only covered a relatively short period of time, I enjoyed seeing how much Izzy matured from the time she left her mother and began living with her Nana. I think part of the reason that Izzy grew up so quickly was because she was finally able to learn about her father; and with this knowledge, she grew to better understand herself and her mother too. Another reason I think Izzy matured was because of the influence of her Nana. Izzy's Nana was an incredibly special women with so much insight into life. I just loved her and her unique perspectives on everything -- from why she named a bedroom to how to make the perfect tortilla. I also loved what a beautiful friend she was, and I thought she just embodied love and family.
As a mom, I appreciated that there were so many valuable messages in this book about love, family, friendship, and even magic! I especially liked that the author conveyed that life can sometimes be magical and we just have to "know" it's there.
TORTILLA SUN is Ms. Cervantes debut novel and I have to say that it's a fantastic beginning to what I hope is a long career in writing MG books. I absolutely loved the author's writing style and the way she told this story. In addition, I loved how she captured the essence of the southwest in her beautiful descriptions of the the people, the village, the land, the myths, and the food! I was so impressed with how she not only created a wonderful character in Izzy, but she managed to incorporate the magical elements into this story in a very believable way.
TORTILLA SUN is a great book to discuss with middle graders whether it be for a mother-daughter book club or for the classroom. The story is a good one (and I think kids will enjoy reading it), and there are also many issues that warrant some further discussion. Some of the topics that you might explore include mother/daughter relationships, grief, sacrifice, love, family, friendships, guilt, secrets and magic! There is a reading guide available which has questions that are especially designed for tweens. And since the author included a recipe for Nana's flour tortillas in the back of the book, you could certainly include some southwestern food and traditions into your meeting to make it even more memorable.
Thanks to the author and publisher for sending me a review copy of this book. Make sure you stop by tomorrow because Jennifer Cervantes will be stopping by to answer a few of my questions.