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.



Dawn said...

Overall I have to say that I didn't love this book; however, looking back I think that it has a number of great topics to discuss with students. There is so much in the book that I can't grasp, like the violence in general, so it was a little difficult to relate to for me.
I felt for Eddie throughout the book, as he tried to get out of his current situation. I was shocked when his Aunt asked that he avenge his cousin's death. How can anyone do that? I know it happens but again that is hard for me to grasp.
It is unfortunate that it seemed like the only way out would be to join the military. Did Eddie really want to join the Navy or was he just looking for any possible out?
Here are some questions I had: What happened to Eddie's dad? How did he die? How many people in Eddie's situation actually get out?
In a weird way this somewhat reminded me of Freedom Writers. I watched it this past week and it seemed to have similar topic of family/racial loyalty and a repeated cycle.
Overall, I would recommend this to some students. I feel that it could create great discussion. One last question is: are their students in Brockport that have to face these challenges? I know I sound naive, but I often don't think of stories like this taking place in a town like Brockport. I am sure it does happen to different degrees everywhere and that is very sad. I am glad that I read this book, as it has given me a lot to think about.

Amanda said...

I liked this book. It was a quick read and definitely gave me some insight into a life that I cannot imagine living. I also enjoyed the imagery used in the book and the concept of "buried onions". I was getting frustrated with Eddie's situation by just reading about it, I can't beleive that people would actually live like that. I thought the fact that the military did seem to be the only way out for Eddie, even Coach was encouraging this was interesting. It makes me wonder how many young adults are forced to decide between living a life like this and joining the military and I can see how the military would seem like the better of the two even in this day and age.

Darla said...

I loved the onions symbolism...

Darla said...

When I think of an onion, I think of something that makes me cry. The odor hangs around for a long time and it is blistering. Tears run down my face and my eyes sting. It is hard to get away from an onion's effect. Eddie's situation reminded me of this. He tired to rise above his environment, but it took all his energies just to exist while always looking over his shoulder. I liked the way the story was told. I had more empathy for the characters when their language was not abrasive. And it could have been. If anyone had a right to be angry and bitter toward society, it was Eddie. Yet, his speech was decent and he did not have to overuse a few choice words to get his point across. It makes it easier to care about a person when he is trying to be polite and sincere. I even liked how he felt guilty over taking the dog to the vet and pocketing the extra money. It shows that he did have a conscience. Eddie wasn't perfect, and that's what made him lovable. But he tried to do what was right against all odds and that is what is important. I think that students would see him as a modern day hero and many boys, Hispanic or not, would identify with him. Girls would like reading about a boy going through the events he went trough, too. We very much need a story with more Hispanic characters and I agree that this would fit the bill.

Becky said...

I enjoyed this book and found it to cover a topic that is not touched by many books. I can see it being intriguing to students and it paints a vivid picture of a life that some students may feel they can relate to. I did find the book kind of slow at times and wonder if students would feel the same.

I have not read many books that take on a perspective like this and think it would provide a unique opportunity for students.

I liked the symbolism of the onion and think it was an awesome but started to get annoyed at how many times it came up throughout the book. I felt it may have been a little over done.

Cathy said...

Buried Onions was a very good book. I liked it on sevearl levels. 1 it was something that male students would like to read. 2 I loved the language especially the metaphor of buried onions, 3 it was a good book for sociology or psychology. 4 lastly it moved me. I found it hard to read because Eddie was a kid trying to change his life and meeting obstacles at every step. He knew that education was the way out( a message that I would like my students to hear) and that he was going nowhere fast. However, having no money makes it hard to get an education. Although I hated to see him use violence against Angel it turned out to be just what he needed to make the move and improve his life. The military would give him the chance to get an education and relocate.

Pam L said...

When a book makes you feel so sad inside, it's hard to say "I loved it"...

Pam L said...

...when a character really touches you and you want to find a way to ease his pain, you know you've found a really good book. As much as I don't like feeling sad, I know that sometimes books such as BURIED ONIONS allow people into a world they can not fathom which in turn forces them to see and understand a stranger's plight. Eddie didn't have much reason to believe that there was much hope out there for him yet he kept struggling to make better choices. In my mind, that's a that young people can relate to. I'm really glad I read this one. Hope to see you all tomorrow!

cvanslyk said...

I really liked this book and I think many of my male students would enjoy it as well. The adults in this story with the exception of the coach were very disappointing. They really didn't do much to help get Eddie a good start to his life. I felt very sorry for him especially because he was a really nice kid with a sense of what is right and what is wrong. He felt so quilty about taking the $10 his God Mother had told him to donate to the Humane
Society. What she asked him to do was so sad and it wasn't easy for him to say good by to Queenie. He needed the money for food. The situations in this book sound very much like my cousin's description of the community she teaches in. She is in California in a very impoverished and violent neighborhood and is always praying for peace and the safety of her students. It was unfortunate that Eddie had given up night school but joining the Navy was probably a better option for him. Not only will he be able to better himself but also help his country. Over the years, I have seen alot of young people turn their lives around by joining the Military and some of them were relatives. Eddie came to realize the importance of education and the impact it would have on his future. I would definitely recommend this book to my students and might consider reading it with one of my classes. I wish I would have realized that there was a glossary in the back of the book as I was reading it.