Tequila Worm by Viola Canales
In this sweet, debut novel, Canales tells the story of Sophia, who has grown up surrounded by her Mexican-American extended family in her small town somewhere in the Southwest. The book is told in humorous vignettes, starting from when Sofia was a young child listening to Dona Clara’s stories during her yearly visit all the way to Sofia’s adult self who tries to help the families in the barrio reconnect with each other and their roots. Clearly her whole life cannot be told in the slim (just under 200 pages) novel, but Canales tries to highlight the important traditions and events, especially those surrounding the Latino community. Readers live through Sofia as she experiences Day of the Dead celebrations, her best friend’s quinceanera, the Christmas nacimiento, Easter Cascarones and how to cure homesickness by eating the tequila worm. She also has a scholarship opportunity to go to a select boarding school, which opens many discussions about family and tradition during the sobremesas (a “sacred time” after dinner in which the family reconnects through conversation) for many weeks.
Although not plot-heavy, I think readers will enjoy the story for what it is: a coming of age tale of a young girl who is outside of what is considered “mainstream America.” Clearly we all realize that today there are more latino students than any other ethnic group in California schools, yet somehow that makes Sofia’s story even more poignant. I would recommend this to readers looking for a coming of age story, a quick and easy read, or someone looking to read about the value of family connections in a time where we all seem so separate.