Last year one of my 8th grade students who arrived in my town from Mexico earlier in the year said that her favorite author was Carlos Cuauhtémoc Sánchez. I remembered that two of her favorite books she mentioned were Sangre de campeón sin cadenas and Un grito desesperado. Last year right after she mentioned him I realized that I had ordered a book by him, Los ojos de mi princesa. I read it right away curious to see what her favorite author was like. I also always love to find books published in Spanish speaking countries.
Los ojos de mi princesa was very unique to say the least. I remembered that at the start of the book a man lures a couple of boys into his van with the guise that he needs their help to sell books at their school, but it ends up that he wants to take them to make pornographic films. I turned to my husband and said I did not think I was going to like the book. However, then I was caught up in it because it was more about the main character's struggle to do what is right and about his parents guiding him to make good decisions. The boy luckily found a way to escape from the vehicle, but told his mom that he was feeling bad for being intrigued by the magazines he saw in the van. She explained that negative influences are a lot like salt water. You drink and drink but always want more and never satisfy your thirst. The novel also had a very interesting format following the boys' love/obsession for a classmate at his school. Part way through the book the font changes and it is the main character writing a novel within the book. Just when I thought that the ending of the novel within the novel was a shocker, I realized that there were still more twists and turns to come. The uniqueness drew me to ponder the book for a long time. I did not include the book in my 6th grade classroom this year because I thought that some of the descriptions/topics were more appropriate for around 8th grade and up.
When looking for books to build up my Spanish library I skimmed other Sánchez books. I thought that the titles my student mentioned, especially the Sangre de campeón books seemed to be more geared toward my age group. I ordered the first one in the series. However, as I started reading it this week I was dismayed to see that I don't think it is a book that I would include in my classroom library. The idea of the book and its themes are great -- to encourage students to make good decisions and to influence positive character formation, but the means to that end are very strange. I only read the first few chapters, but every chapter is very exaggerated. Instead of demonstrating realistic, everyday experiences the first chapter illustrates how an older brother jealous of his younger brother ends up pushing him off a diving board when the younger brother teases him that he must need to show him how it is done. He is instantly repentant as he fears his brother may hit the cement instead of the water and die. His brother does indeed hit his head on the side but mainly falls in water and is okay. As a punishment the dad tells the older son that he is going to have to be grounded and paint the house. The older son throws a tantrum and explains that the younger brother is the one who should be in trouble (guess his apologetic feelings wore off quickly).
In the next chapter his brother climbs up on the roof of the house using the ladder and rather than trying to coax his brother down and make sure he is safe, the older brother runs in the house to tattle on him. The mom, who is in the shower, pleas with him to get his brother down, but he focuses all of his energy on persuading his mom that his brother should be punished. His brother falls from the ladder and ends up in the hospital. He later realizes that his brother had been helping him paint so that he would finish up his punishment faster. As if that was not exaggerated enough yet, while his parents are in the hospital a couple of negative influences come along and invite him to go with them for a while even though he is grounded and supposed to stay at home.
Nonetheless, the main character goes with them and it ends up them only wanted him along so that they could get into the country club where he is a member. They go into a boiler room and spy into the women's dressing room. They get caught when they accidentally break a pipe. The country club manager lets the boy know that he has to pay to replace the pipe.
Wouldn't you think the character formation and positive influences would be kicking in at least the tiniest bit by now? Wrong! The "bad" boys wait outside for him to threaten him for telling the owner that they were spying on females when they broke the pipe. Yet later that evening they call him to come to a party and he once again sneaks out. At the "party" he realizes that the boys have arranged for a dog to attack him with a lot of people watching for entertainment. He wets his pants and then panics and smacks the dog with a chair. Supposedly the dog was trained to just scare people, but since he fights back the dog ends up injuring him a lot. The boy get cleaned up and then goes back out and drinks at the party.
At this point I had to say, "Ya basta" (enough)! I can't take this anymore. It is way too ridiculous. I agree 100% to try to instill good morals in children/students, but the book just has the main character dig himself into a bigger and bigger hole. He does not seem to learn anything from his experiences as he keeps on doing something even more stupid that the last mistake. He works through mental dilemmas but always makes the wrong decision. The chapter titles list a main idea or lesson, but the main character is always an example of not following that suggestion and the negative consequences. Furthermore, he does not apply the lesson from the previous chapter into the later chapters. It would be more realistic if the main character made more balanced decisions -- some negative and some positive. Also there is a very clear "good" and "bad" rather than a more natural mixture of teenagers who are not clear cut one way or the other.
I am just glad that I did not run out and get a variety of his books! Most of all I am disappointed that it did not work out to have a quality book for young adults by a Mexican author, published in Mexico. Many of the Spanish language books available are written in English and translated in the US. I am left wondering what my student saw in his writing. I could see it with Ojos de mi princesa, although now I can see how it is part of the author's style to have the division between good and bad, as well as very exaggerated examples of bad decisions. I prefer books that tell stories/teach lessons through realistic, believable characters. I think that the love of telanovelas and how exaggerated they are is probably part of the reason why my student enjoyed these books.
(Note: On an earlier post I mentioned that I would review Spanish books in Spanish, but I decided to go ahead and do all reviews in English for now.)