Cover image for Becoming Maria : love and chaos in the South Bronx
Title:
Becoming Maria : love and chaos in the South Bronx
ISBN:
9780545621847
Edition:
First edition.
Physical Description:
262 pages : illustrations (black & white) ; 22 cm
Reading Level:
910 L Lexile
Personal Subject:
Summary:
Set in the 1950s in the Bronx, this is the story of a girl with a dream. Emmy award-winning actress and writer Sonia Manzano plunges us into the daily lives of a Latino family that is loving--and troubled. This is Sonia's own story rendered with an unforgettable narrative power. When readers meet young Sonia, she is a child living amidst the squalor of a boisterous home that is filled with noisy relatives and nosy neighbors. Each day she is glued to the TV screen that blots out the painful realities of her existence and also illuminates the possibilities that lie ahead. But--click!--when the TV goes off, Sonia is taken back to real-life--the cramped, colorful world of her neighborhood and an alcoholic father. But it is Sonia's dream of becoming an actress that keeps her afloat among the turbulence of her life and times. Spiced with culture, heartache, and humor, this memoir paints a lasting portrait of a girl's resilience as she grows up to become an inspiration to millions.
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Summary

Summary

Get to Know 'Maria' from Sesame Street - in this beautifully wrought coming-of-age memoir.

Set in the 1970s in the Bronx, this is the story of a girl with a dream. Emmy award-winning actress and writer Sonia Manzano plunges us into the daily lives of a Latino family that is loving-and troubled. This is Sonia's own story rendered with an unforgettable narrative power. When readers meet young Sonia, she is a child living amidst the squalor of a boisterous home that is filled with noisy relatives and nosy neighbors. Each day she is glued to the TV screen that blots out the painful realities of her existence and also illuminates the possibilities that lie ahead. But-click!-when the TV goes off, Sonia is taken back to real-life-the cramped, colorful world of her neighborhood and an alcoholic father. But it is Sonia's dream of becoming an actress that keeps her afloat among the turbulence of her life and times. Spiced with culture, heartache, and humor, this memoir paints a lasting portrait of a girl's resilience as she grows up to become an inspiration to millions.


Author Notes

Sonia Manzano has affected the lives of millions since the early 1970s, as the actress who defined the role of "Maria" on the acclaimed television series Sesame Street. Sonia has won fifteen Emmy Awards for her television writing and is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Arts and Sciences. People magazine named Sonia one of America's most influential Hispanics. This is Sonia's first novel. She lives in New York City.


Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

Actress Manzano, known for her role as Maria on Sesame Street, chronicles her formative years in a troubled household in 1950s and '60s New York City with a voice that conveys a slow-burning audacity and the internal glimmer of lightness of a true dreamer. She narrates her life, rough spots and all, with unflinching honesty in words and tone. She growls when recalling anger, lightens up with laughter when narrating happier times. She gives distinct voices to different people in her life. Her parents' speak with thick Puerto Rican accents and she performs with a breathy Marilyn Monroe voice for a glamorous friend, while her aunts sound blustery and brassy. The audio edition of her memoir will grab listeners from the get-go Ages 12-up. A Scholastic Press hardcover. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Horn Book Review

Sonia Manzano, best known as Sesame Streets (recently retired) Maria, recounts her Bronx childhood and adolescence in a sometimes-gritty, first-person, present-tense narration. She begins by conveying the confusion of her early years through a series of fragmented vignettes that shift between her fathers drunken abuse, her mothers love, the instability of their living situation, and the various joys and sorrows of childhood. She then transitions into her restless teen years, during which she continues to face family drama as she develops her sense of self. In the third part, Manzano relates her struggles slipping and sliding amongworlds as she ventures out of the Bronx to attend the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan and then Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where she is cast in the first Off-Broadway run of Godspell and returns to New York. The intentionally disjointed beginning section makes for a somewhat befuddling first few chapters, but the story gains coherence as it progresses, ending just as she auditions for Sesame Street. Manzanos writing is lyrical and accessible, laced with fear, confusion, love, anger (and more than a few f-bombs). Though she notes the simple joys of family and friends, Manzanos memoir is ultimately a story about survival. randy ribay (c) Copyright 2015. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Booklist Review

Though many adults may recognize Manzano as Maria from Sesame Street, she's likely more well known among today's teens as the author of the Pura Belpré-winning The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano (2012). In her present-tense memoir, Manzano, who grew up in 1950s South Bronx, examines her community, her family, and her ever-changing self with a wide-eyed curiosity. She struggles to make sense of her mother's decisions, such as staying with an abusive husband and trading in a hardscrabble existence in Puerto Rico for an equally challenging life in the U.S. It's Manzano's gift for theater that provides her the opportunity of a lifetime, and thanks to her talent, she attends a performing-arts high school and then Carnegie Mellon. This beautifully rendered coming-of-age story calls to mind Betty Smith's classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Though it's a bit slow moving at times and would have benefited from a time line to help ground readers, this is nevertheless an inspiring portrait of resiliency and a time capsule for a New York that now feels like a distant memory.--Barnes, Jennifer Copyright 2015 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

FROM THE VERY first sentence, Margarita Engle's memoir "Enchanted Air" takes wing. "When my parents met, it was love at first sight," Engle writes. "They were standing on the terrace of an art school in an elegant palace now known as the Museo Romántico, the Romantic Museum." Since her Cuban mother and American father did not speak the same language, they "communicated by passing drawings back and forth, like children in the back of a classroom. . . . Sketches, signs and gestures had to substitute for words." After this opening the book moves into verse, and a generation coming of age on Snapchat and Instagram will find the power Engle is able to pack into each exquisite phrase to be deeply satisfying: Old women love fresh air, but they are also Afraid of aires, a word that can be a whoosh of refreshing sky breath, or it can mean dangerous spirits. The child in this memoir is a bird, lifted each year from her home in California to Cuba, where she spends blissful summers. Then in April 1961, the Bay of Pigs invasion occurs and she cannot return to Cuba. She is cut off from her extended family, the melody of her second language, the "crocodile-shaped" country she loves. This pattern of shifts, abrupt, unexpected change, doors to homelands opening and closing, the young Margarita comes to understand, goes back for generations: When Mami tells her flowery tales of Cuba, she fills the twining words with relatives. But when I ask my Ukrainian-Jewish-American grandma about her childhood in a village near snowy Kiev, All she reveals is a single memory of ice-skating on a frozen pond. Apparently the length of a grown-up's growing-up story is determined by the difference between immigration and escape. "Enchanted Air" is at its heart a book about travel. Some of it is specific: how we travel between languages, cultures and countries. But because Engle is such a gifted writer, this is a book that generously gives every reader a ticket to ride as she explores what it means to journey toward adulthood, traversing from one side of her family to the other, from the natural world of "tropical jungles, wild green parrots" that "remind me of island skies" to the back of the car on a family road trip when all her family can afford is a long, hot, adventure-seeking drive to Mexico. ANYONE WHO GREW up watching Sonia Manzano as Maria on "Sesame Street" might expect her coming-of-age memoir to be a celebrity production focused on sunny days and sweeping the clouds away. But as the book's subtitle, "Love and Chaos in the South Bronx," reveals, Manzano worked hard and endured much before she made her way onto the screen and into our hearts on the classic PBS television show. Her Nuyorican culture is a through-line here, but Manzano neither overromanticizes nor overworks the language or the details. There are no cloying metaphors about life being sweet like azúcar (sugar); nothing is spicy like salsa. She has from beginning to end a sophisticated, wellintegrated view of her world. It simply is, and she assumes that the reader stands on the same side of the mirror as she does. You are drawn in by her language, her honesty, the way she moves the story along. You are dropped into her world from the very beginning and she assumes you get it, or you will quickly catch up to what it means to see life through a young Latina's lens. When, as a girl, she is challenged by her cousins about why Santa Claus leaves some of their presents at her house, Sonia thinks: "Saves time. . . . If Santa had to wait for us Puerto Ricans to stop partying on Christmas Eve and go to bed, he'd never finish delivering gifts and we would hold up the whole world getting presents." Having already written a wonderful fiction debut, "The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano," Manzano brings a novelist's attention to detail and a gift for writing powerful scenes to "Becoming Maria." Growing up in a home with a violent, alcoholic father and a mother who put up with a lot to build a life with this man she loves, Sonia struggles to figure out how to follow her own path away from the madness of her home. She finds refuge in a theater arts program for teenagers, which leads, miraculously, to a scholarship at Carnegie Mellon's prestigious theater program. While the 1960s are the political backdrop to Engle's ethereal memoir in verse, Manzano transports us to that decade in a way that is both informing and entertaining. It's fascinating to watch her play with identity as a high school girl in New York then. She sits around interpreting Beatles' lyrics with her friends: "I am the walrus- What do you think it means?" "Qué se yo? How should I know?" We get a strong whiff of the 1960s, too, in how Manzano dresses up, and in the process, culturally code-shifts from a "garter-wearing Kitty from 'Gunsmoke'" to a "sari-wearing East Indian girl" to a "solemn intellectual beatnik." On her first day at Carnegie Mellon, she decides to don a "Native American counterculture look, putting my hair in two long braids, wearing a headband, a sandalwood necklace and a denim shirt." The effects of the counterculture are more than cosmetic. The book is recommended for readers 12 and up, but parents should know that in high school Sonia and her friends smoke pot. And when her dear friend gets pregnant, Sonia urges her to consider her options: "Vanessa, it doesn't have to go that way! You're just a kid! You can end this pregnancy. It's the '60s! We are free now." (Vanessa decides to keep the baby.) And the counterculture theme continues as Sonia is cast as one of the student-actor-creators of an experimental Off Broadway play called "Godspell." Manzano is such a familiar figure in our pop culture that it would be almost easy to miss that she is an ink-slinging storyteller with serious smarts and unquestionable literary gifts. Her words are bright on the page. "Becoming Maria" is a powerful book that will appeal to teenagers and grown-ups alike (it would be a great choice for mother-daughter book clubs). There is a phrase in Spanish that Manzano uses: Búscate la vida. The literal translation is "Look for your life." But like so many expressions, it means more. It also means go for it, take some chances, swing for the fences and see what happens. It is the message at the heart of both of these memoirs by Latinas. We must all look for our lives. Memoirs thrill us because they show us someone opening up the vault of personal experience and saying, This is how I did it. This is how I looked for my life, and this is what I found. VERONICA CHAMBERS is the author of "Mama's Girl" and a co-author, most recently, of "Wake Up Happy," by Michael Strahan.


School Library Journal Review

Gr 9 Up-Although Manzano is the author of such notable titles as The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano (Scholastic, 2012) and Miracle on 133rd Street (S. & S., 2015), she may be best known for her 44 years as Maria on Sesame Street. This latest work recounts her chaotic family life in the 1950s and 1960s South Bronx, before she joined the fledgling television show in 1971. The author herself narrates, and listeners will be delighted to hear her familiar voice but sobered to learn the details of a childhood ruled by an alcoholic, abusive father and loving, though codependent, mother. Manzano expresses perfectly the confusion of a young child viewing violence she can't understand and the real fear of a girl watching her mother secreting away kitchen knives before her husband explodes in a drunken fury. However, she also conveys the wonder and awakening occasioned by experiencing performances as diverse as the romantic musical drama West Side Story and the acts of Charlie Chaplin, as well as unaffected surprise when describing the events that led to her early life-changing successes, including admittance to the High School of the Performing Arts. VERDICT Teens may have trouble following the story, which unfolds in episodic memories that sometimes lack clear transitions. However, many will be moved and even inspired by the account of Manzano rising above her challenging childhood. ["This memoir will strike a chord with teens and adults alike": SLJ 9/15 starred review of the Scholastic book.]Rebecca James, Hathaway Brown School, Shaker Heights, OH © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Kirkus Review

Actress Manzano, best known as Maria from Sesame Street, provides a lyrical and unflinching account of her tough Nuyorican upbringing in the South Bronx. Split into three parts, this touching memoir is a chronological series of vignettes in the author's life, starting with her earliest memories as a diaper-clad toddler witnessing her father's drunken outbursts and meeting a mysterious "dark little girl," who turns out to be her older half sister. The author doesn't give many dates or ages; her memories are fragments of her Spanglish-filled life in a large, poverty-stricken Puerto Rican family. She writes about the fear and confusion of having an abusive father and a battered mother doing the best she could with four kids to clothe and feed. She describes the communal shame of cousins and friends "ruined" by teen pregnancies. But her childhood isn't all grim. Manzano lovingly details life-changing moments: seeing West Side Story with a teacher and two other Latina classmates; visiting Puerto Rico, the place her parents fled but cherished; listening to a record of Richard Burton playing Hamlet; and later successfully auditioning for a spot in Manhattan's illustrious High School of Performing Arts. Life is full of tragedies and triumphs alike, and Manzano shows how both helped her become the actress that generations of children grew up seeing on Sesame Street. In stark and heartbreaking contrast to her Sesame Street character, Manzano paints a poignant, startlingly honest picture of her youth. (Memoir. 12 up) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.