Monday, July 2, 2007

Module 3: Accidental Love

Soto, Gary. 2006. Accidental Love. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc. ISBN 0152054979.

Plot Summary
Marisa winds up with the wrong cell phone after getting into a fight with her best friend's boyfriend. Marisa meets with the boy, Rene, who has her cell phone and discovers that she likes him, even though he is a nerd. After switching to Rene's school, Marisa gets to know him better and becomes his girlfriend. Marisa slowly becomes a different person while her and Rene undergo many obstacles. The biggest obstacle is Rene's controlling mother. Marisa must go back to her old school after Rene's mother informs school officials that Marisa is lying about living in the neighborhood. Rene joins Marisa at her old school after revealing to his father that his mother is abusive.

Critical Analysis
Different types of cultural markers are present in Accidental Love. Language, names, foods, and musical preference identify Marisa and her family and friends as a Mexican American, but the culture itself is rarely discussed. At one point Marisa does contemplate her culture when she sees her friend Latisha at a basketball game. The text says, "Marisa and Latisha had been close friends in first and second grades, but by third grade they had drifted--Latisha to her black friends at one table in the lunchroom and Marisa to the Latinos hanging out on a grassy hill." Marisa describes Latisha as being loud and having a comb stuck in her Afro.

Other descriptions of people are basic also, focusing more on teenage views rather than cultural appearance. Marisa talks about teasing her own hair, wearing brown lipstick, and long fingernails, which seem to indicate a chola appearance. She never describes her clothes, though, so it is difficult to really know how she looks, except in the end of the story when she loses enough weight to wear dresses again. Rene's appearance is given the most attention since Marisa thinks he looks like a nerd. She complains about his high water pants and white socks with stripes and encourages him to dress better.

Language plays a large role in the text since many Spanish words are incorporated into the story. Some of the words are used to identify others. Marisa's parents call her mi'ja (daughter), she calls her aunt tia, and Rene is her novio (boyfriend). Other words, like pendejo (dummy), tonto (fool), and guey (idiot), are used as insults. Phrases like que linda (how pretty) and y que mas (and what else) are also used. The meaning of the Spanish words can usually be determined from the context of the sentence, but a glossary is also provided at the end of the book. Sometimes English and Spanish words are used that indicate the slang language used in Marisa's neighborhood. An example of this is seen at Halloween when some boys Marisa knows are trick-or-treating at her aunt's house. Some of the words they use are chale (no way), carnal, crib, and tight (as in "You're tight, girl" or "You all right, girl").

Many of the names used can be English or Spanish names, but the characters have Spanish surnames. Marisa's last name is Rodriguez and Rene's is Torres. Mexican foods are present in addition to other foods. Marisa's mom makes tamales, tortillas, albondiga soup, and beans as well as lasagna. The mention of having heated "tortillas wrapped in a dish towel," eating beans with a broken off piece of tortilla, and defrosting tamales add a realistic aspect to the foods. The one mention of music comes when Marisa explains that "her mother was in a good mood, because she was listening to her favorite CD: Linda Ronstadt's Canciones de mi Padre." On this CD Linda Ronstadt sings traditional mariachi songs that come from Mexico. (As I write this my own mom is actually making tortillas, placing the finished ones under a dish towel, and is listening to the same Linda Ronstadt CD. What a coincidence!)

Within the story Rene and Marisa are going to be in the school's production of Romeo and Juliet. Their own story mirrors Romeo and Juliet. Rene's mom does not approve of Marisa and tries to force them apart. Marisa's friends criticise her for switching to a new school and accuse her of believing that she is too good for them. Marisa and Rene have different characteristics than Romeo and Juliet, though. Marisa is a strong, tough girl who stands up for Rene and does not mind getting in fights. Rene is smart, plays chess, and is already planning out his future, which involves attending an ivy league college.

The story is also different from Romeo and Juliet since there is a happy ending. Marisa and Rene are separated from each other when Marisa must return to her old school, but they are reunited when Rene transfers to Marisa's school after moving in with his dad. Both characters have also changed. Marisa is now able to control her temper and cares more about school. Rene is a stronger person and opens up to his father, not allowing his mother to control and abuse him any longer. The happy ending comes rather easily and quickly, though. Within the last pages of the story Marisa is depressed and alone when Rene suddenly appears, in a new outfit, explaining why he is at her school. All is suddenly well again and it even snows, something that never happens in the town.

Review Excerpts
"Occasionally stilted dialogue and clunky writing ("She breathed in and out like a prizefighter") will distract some readers. However, it's hard not to like spunky Marisa and appreciate the fresh point of view she brings to what otherwise might be a typical teen romance." -School Library Journal

"Though the star-crossed-lovers premise is familiar (Soto even weaves in a school production of Romeo and Juliet), the tough-girl/good-guy romance is a refreshing twist, and Marisa and Rene are unique and long-overdue characters in a depiction of romance outside of the chick-lit box." -Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Share other books written by Gary Soto. Encourage students to write stories or poems about their own neighborhood or teenage experiences.

Young Adult Books
Buried Onions
Crazy Weekend
Local News
Mercy on These Teenage Chimps
Pacific Crossing
Petty Crimes
Summer on Wheels
Taking Sides

Poetry Books
Who Will Know Us?: New Poems
Neighborhood Odes
New and Selected Poems
Fire in My Hands

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