Saturday, September 01, 2007

Buried Onions by Gary Soto

This was our optional book- so I'm not sure how many of you had the chance to read it as we close in on the start of the school year! It's hard to say I what I thought of this certainly spoke to me and moved me, but I selected it for this project not because I thought it would have general appeal or because it was a popular YA fiction pick...but because I thought it would reach a population in our school that could relate to Eddie. There are not many YA fiction titles with Hispanic protagonists and I thought this might fit the bill.

Having said that I do have do say the book left a mark on me. I loved some of the descriptions and imagery, for example, "I returned to my apartment, which was in a part of Fresno where fences sagged and the paint blistered on houses....Laundry wept from the lines, the faded flags of poor, ignorant, unemployable people." I especially loved the line "Laundry wept from the lines." I also loved the way he used the smell of onions as a symbol of their hopelessness, sorrow and anger- "I had a theory about those vapors, which were not released by the sun's heat but by a huge onion buried under the city. This onion made us cry. Tears leapt from our eyelashes and stained our faces."

I couldn't believe that his aunt really wanted him to avenge his cousins death?! I wonder if this is how it really is? I felt terrible that he was trying so hard to pull himself out of his bleak existence yet was thwarted by so many things- his aunt's pressures, the situation with his employer's truck, etc... My heart broke for him when he was talking about always having to run away and he said, "I was a regular Speedy Gonzalez, but so tired. I wanted to sit still, to keep from always running." I was thrilled when Coach Holmes was there for him...and glad he ultimately decided to join the navy. However, I was intrigued by the ending...did he make it back to the bus? I like to think he does.

Soto wrote a companion book to Buried Onions called The Afterlife which deals with the same events as Buried Onions...Eddie's cousin's murder, but is told from Chuy's (Jesus) point of view. The Afterlife begins just after Chuy's death- he then follows his cousin Eddie as Eddie tries to cope with Chuy's death and the ensuing fallout. I haven't read this book yet but reviews I've seen have said that The Afterlife is much more optimistic than Buried Onions. It might be very interesting to use both of these books in literature circles and then have groups compare how the events of the stories differ, depending on the perspective of the each boy.

This book definitely tells how it is for young people living in rough neighborhoods plagued by drive-bys, drugs, and desperate people...whether it's in Fresno or New York. This alone, in my opinion, make it a valuable read.

If anyone else had a chance to read it I would love to know what you thought.