Emily is a Jewish girl from the suburbs of New York. Her mother has family in Puerto Rico, but Emily has never had contact with them- ever. Then Emily's grandmother dies and Emily is forced to go to the Caribbean for her funeral. Buttoned-up Emily wants nothing to do with her big, noisy Puerto Rican family, until a special person shows her that one dance can change the beat of your heart.
Since Ostow is half-Jewish, half-Puerto Rican, just like Emily Goldberg in this novel, we can surmise she understands this cultural mix well. Emily's Puerto Rican mother is a Ph.D. academic and feminist--she left to go to college in the US and never returned to Puerto Rico or took her family there, making her life in New York with her Jewish husband and their two children. When Emily's grandmother dies, the family travels to Puerto Rico for the funeral. Emily's mother goes into a strange stage of grief, and everyone decides she should stay with her sisters and their families in San Juan, and Emily should remain with her as support. The story is told from Emily's point of view, in her voice. Emily just graduated from high school, and in this summer before leaving for Brown University, she had planned a road trip with two girlfriends. Instead, she is in a household with her Puerto Rican relatives where she feels like an outsider. Her cousin Lucy takes a dislike to her; she is resentful and rude. As the weeks go by, everyone slowly changes, which is the stuff of this story. Emily learns better how to make connections with people; Lucy has a crisis of her own and appreciates the support of Emily and her mother. Secrets from the past are revealed and we understand the tension between the traditional culture of Puerto Rico and the freedom for personal expression available in American culture--especially for women. Emily's mother left tradition to become a feminist scholar, after all: Emily, Lucy and we the readers understand her better by the end of the story. Middle-class teenagers in San Juan who are smart, talented and ambitious--where have we read about them before? I don't think I everhave heard their stories, so I am happy to read about them in this novel. They are the most interesting characters even though it is Emily telling the story. KLIATT Codes: JS--Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2006, Penguin, Razorbill, 200p., $16.99.. Ages 12 to 18.