Chela Gonzalez, the book’s narrator, is a nerd and a soccer player who can barely contain her excitement about starting the sixth grade. But nothing is as she imagined-her best friend turns on her to join the popular girls and they all act like Chela doesn’t exist. She buries herself in schoolwork and in the warm comfort of her family. To Chela, her family is like a solar system, with her father the sun and her mother, brothers, and sister like planets rotating all around him. It’s a small world, but it’s the only one she fits in.
But that universe is threatened when her strong father has a stroke.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: None
Booklist (September 1, 2008 (Vol. 105, No. 1))
Grades 4-6. As she starts sixth grade, 11-year-old Chela is straddling two borders, the figurative one between childhood and adolescence and the real one that divides Ciudad Juarez from El Paso. Chela is devastated when her new classmates in Texas laugh at her accented English and jeeringly call her a Juaranota. Then her best friend, Nora, abandons her to join a clique of popular girls. These problems pale, however, after her beloved father suffers a stroke and can no longer work. Her grandmother comes to help (it is her perfume that pervades the household), but fear and worry surround the family. Martinez’s highly episodic first novel is a quiet story that is, perhaps, a bit too predictable, filled with such coming-of-age staples as mean girls, popularity contests, first romances, sibling rivalries, and more. However, readers will also find the book’s loving portrayal of Chela’s family, its nicely realized setting, and its artful exploration of the problems of assimilation, to be both engaging and heartfelt. —Michael Cart
Horn Book Guide (Spring 2009)
Chela Gonzalez is highly anticipating sixth grade. She’s especially excited about being part of the A-class, the only all-English class in her El Paso school. But when her father has a stroke, Chela’s year grows complicated and painful. Short, well-crafted chapters offer perceptive glimpses into life on the border, the dynamics of middle-grade girls, and a family in turmoil.
About the Author
Claudia Guadalupe Martinez grew up in El Paso, Texas. She learned that letters form words from reading the subtitles of old westerns for her father. She went on to graduate from college and moved to Chicago to become one of the city’s youngest non-profit executives.
Her website is claudiaguadalupemartinez.com
Around the Web
Olor a Perfume de Viejita on Amazon
Olor a Perfume de Viejita on Barnes and Noble
Olor a Perfume de Viejita on Goodreads
Olor a Perfume de Viejita Publisher Page