Teen Writers Bloc

A Blog by the New School Writing for Children MFA Class of 2012

Perla Salutes Those Who Have Paved the Way

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On October - 2 - 2012

brief wondrous life of oscar wao by junot diaz Perla Salutes Those Who Have Paved the WayWhen asked what book I wished I had written, three immediately come to mind: Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer-Prize winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. All three of these books made me almost-cry (and at times cry) at the perfection of their stories. They motivated me to become a writer and hopefully write something as awesome. They filled me up with that nice kind of envy, maybe not a greenish envy, but a sweeter baby bluish or pinkish envy.

All three of these works have some similarities that I personally obsess about in the works I choose to read and what I write about. They’re all about the coming of age of an urban teen of color, the struggles of growing up underprivileged in the USA and the difficulties of being bicultural. And the authors all write about it in a fresh, original and creative format that had me captivated from beginning to end. I LOVED and connected with these stories and I LOVED how the stories were told.

The House on Mango Street uses short poetic vignettes to share the experiences Esperanza faces growing up in her neighborhood. Using colorful and concise language, Cisneros describes her awesome characters in such a way that you laugh at their imperfections and at the same time sympathize with many of their lost dreams. The story ends with a conflicted Esperanza, who wants more out of life. Despite loving her neighborhood and her heritage, she realizes that in order to pursue her dreams she must eventually leave it behind — a common decision many of us face when going away to college and leaving the ‘hood to pursue our dreams.

When I read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in David Levithan’s class last year, I was absolutely mesmerized by Junior’s tragic life. I mean, this kid had absolutely nothing good going for him. Absolutely nothing.  Anybody else would have jumped off a bridge, seriously. Between his physical limitations, living on the depressing reservation, the bullying, the deaths, the adversities surrounding his people, the hopelessness, the alcoholism, the anger… how can you have so many issues in one book?  My classmates have told me many times that I have too many issues in one of the pieces I’m working on, and all I do is think about Alexie’s book. But I think you can do it because it can be real! Some people have really shitty lives. But Alexie tempers the trauma with humor. And once Junior (like Esperanza) decides to leave, he ends the book with hope.

And what can I say about The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao? It won a Pulitzer, for crying out loud! But I will say this: I read this book about a week after it came out (obviously before the Pulitzer). I had patiently waited ten years for Mr. Diaz’s next work of art.I read it voraciously in a few days, hypnotized by Diaz’s curses, urban-Dominicanness, his hilarious footnotes and fantastic story telling. Once I finally finished it, I slammed it on the table and yelled to my husband who was watching TV, “This is a freaking masterpiece! And it deserves a Pulitzer, but probably won’t get it because… because, well I don’t think many would understand it in its entirety. Last time I checked there weren’t any geeky, urban, poor Dominican immigrants masterfully mixing Spanish and curses in their writing on the Pulitzer judging table.” Well, thank god I was wrong, dead wrong.

Thank you for opening those doors Ms. Cisneros, Mr. Alexie and Mr. Diaz.

Photo courtesy Riverhead Trade

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