Lucky Broken Girl, by Ruth Behar (2017)

Lucky Broken Girl, by Ruth BeharIt’s so much fun to read “historical” novels set in a time you can almost call your own childhood! Alas, I’m a little too young to remember go go boots, which is what 11-year-old Ruthie has her heart set on. But life is challenging for a Jewish-Cuban immigrant family in 1960s New York City, and Papa already works hard to feed and care for his family. Mami misses Cuba terribly, but tries to hide it as lamenting her homeland only annoys her husband who deeply values the freedom of life in America after Castro’s Communist takeover of the family’s business. Ruthie understands both points of view, but like her mum, cherishes her memories of Cuba, though they are fading more quickly than she’d like. On the other hand, she’s learning English quickly enough that she can finally move out of the “dumb” class, a bureaucratic decision she and her friend Ravi deeply resent in the days before English as another language classes! And away from school, Ruthie plays hopscotch with her friends, and delights in being nicknamed the Hopscotch Queen of Queens, thanks to her lithe ability to balance and leap into the squares. And so she and her family are devastated when a fatal car accident lands Ruthie in a body cast from her chest to her toes. She’s bedridden for at least four months, the doctor says, and possibly longer. He isn’t sure she’ll be able to walk again, even. It takes a village to help Ruthie through this – a visiting teacher, kind relatives, a new neighbour with art supplies, literature, and prayer as Ruthie struggles to overcome shame, anger, and resentment as she comes to realize how lucky she is, even if she is a bit broken. Based in part on the author’s own experience, the story sparkles with convincing detail of life in 1960s New York, the right level of awareness of adult matters which don’t make complete sense to a child, and an authentic voice for a girl who strives to grow up while literally being still while waiting for her body to heal. This is an absolutely charming and heartfelt story, made more touching by the author’s afterword describing her own experience of spending a year in a cast as a girl. Expect nominations for major awards!
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