Thursday, June 17, 2010

Review #70: The Madonnas of Echo Park by Brando Skyhorse

Title: The Madonnas of Echo Park
Author: Brando Skyhorse
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Free Press (Simon and Schuster)
Format: ARC from Publisher
ISBN: 978-1-4391-7080-9
Price/Pages: $23.00/224
Release Date: June 2010

Description from Simon and Schuster's website:
(because it explains it far better than I could)

We slipped into this country like thieves, onto the land that once was ours.

With these words, spoken by an illegal Mexican day laborer, The Madonnas of Echo Park takes us into the unseen world of Los Angeles, following the men and women who cook the meals, clean the homes, and struggle to lose their ethnic identity in the pursuit of the American dream.

When a dozen or so girls and mothers gather on an Echo Park street corner to act out a scene from a Madonna music video, they find themselves caught in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting. In the aftermath, Aurora Esperanza grows distant from her mother, Felicia, who as a housekeeper in the Hollywood Hills establishes a unique relationship with a detached housewife.

The Esperanzas’ shifting lives connect with those of various members of their neighborhood. A day laborer trolls the streets for work with men half his age and witnesses a murder that pits his morality against his illegal status; a religious hypocrite gets her comeuppance when she meets the Virgin Mary at a bus stop on Sunset Boulevard; a typical bus route turns violent when cultures and egos collide in the night, with devastating results; and Aurora goes on a journey through her gentrified childhood neighborhood in a quest to discover her own history and her place in the land that all Mexican Americans dream of, "the land that belongs to us again."

Like the Academy Award–winning film Crash, The Madonnas of Echo Park follows the intersections of its characters and cultures in Los Angeles. In the footsteps of Junot Díaz and Sherman Alexie, Brando Skyhorse in his debut novel gives voice to one neighborhood in Los Angeles with an astonishing— and unforgettable—lyrical power.

My Review:

I took this book along with me to NYC and read about half of it on the way out there. I always try to take a book on the plane that is not huge but thought provoking. I like to be absorbed and intrigued. I rarely take fluff with me on airplanes. I want to be a little lost and forget that I could be plummeting to my death at any moment. :) I was able to finish this in Washington Square Park a few days into my travels in the city.
The Madonnas of Echo Park fit this bill completely. I had read about it earlier in the year and when I had the opportunity to read it before it was released I jumped on it.

First the line,
"We slipped into this country like thieves, onto the land that once was ours" is incredibly powerful and engaged me right away.

Also, the author was compared to Junot Diaz, the author of
The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which I just adored.

As the description above says, this novel tells many a story, each chapter separate and told from a different voice. But as you read on, each character is connected and pieces of each story overlap and you get to reread it in a sense from different perspectives. This style is not at all redundant or boring. I did not feel that any story was being retold over and over again. It really opened my eyes to the world in general and how easy it is to interpret a situation or judge an individual. We each carry around our own bias and attitudes and our history is what makes us who we are.
As I was reading each character and their story, the author remains very thoughtful to each and every one, though some stories were harsh and raw.

In the beginning the author begins the novel with his own Author's Note and how he came to write this story. He tells of a young girl he went to school with named Aurora Esperanza and how during a dance party at school he refurses to dance with her, telling her
"You are a Mexican. I can't dance with you."
After being scolded by the teacher, he goes home to think of why he would say such an awful thing. After some time, he begins to feel bad and is ready to apologize. The next day at school he tells the teacher he is ready to say he was sorry but unfortunately Aurora never comes back.

He states that 25 years later, this novel is his way of apologizing.

With all of the news about illegal immigration, Arizona and border protection, reading this vivid portrait of Mexican-Americans, was such a refreshing eye opener. We are all hear to live, survive, take care of our families and try to do what's best...we hope.
Unfortutately in our society certain individuals get judged harsher than others.

Rating: 6 stars/ 6 stars
I highly recommend this novel to anyone who is a lover of serious, eye-opening fiction. It may be short in length but the stories are so candid and real, the weight of the book comes through there. Book clubs would be advised to read this one. You will find a lot to discuss!

Author Profile:
Brando Skyhorse was born and raised in Echo Park, California. He is a graduate of Stanford university and the MFS Writers' Workshop program at UC Irvine. For the past ten years he has worked in New York as a book editor. He is currently writing a memoir, Things My Fathers Taught Me, about growing up with five stepfathers.

Thank you to Wendy at Simon and Schuster for giving me an opportunity to read this early.

Happy Reading and as always, thanks for stopping by!

red headed book child


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

THANK YOU so much....I really think I would love this one, and this is the 1st I've heard of it! Excellent review!

Jenny said...

Wow, great review!!! I really wasn't sure what this was about but it sounds really good. Like I MUST add it to my TBR! The thing he wrote in the author's note makes me so sad!! Makes the book that much more meaningful..

Jessica said...

I'm absolutely intrigued! Thanks for reviewing this book; I might not have heard of it otherwise.

bookmagic said...

I really want to read this one, I have heard nothing but good things

Jamie said...

Sounds intriguing! Found your blog through the Blog Hop!! Can't wait to read more of your reviews!

-Jamie at The Broke and the Bookish

Stacy at The Novel Life said...

Oh WOW! What a fantastic review! And I love that first line! My bf and I just had a long discussion last night about how the US kicked Mexico out of CA, Oregon & Washington state...all during our rush for gold and land! How ironic that I should read about this book the next day! I'm definitely adding this one to my TBR list!