tia lola stories : the 4th

How Tia Lola Ended Up Starting Over

(Tia Lola Stories : Book 4)

by Julia Alvarez

Alfred A. Knopf, 2011

Hardcover, 147 pages, Juvenile Fiction (ages 7-10)

Welcome to Tia Lola’s bed and breakfast! With the help of her niece and nephew and the three Sword Sisters, Tía Lola is opening the doors of Colonel Charlebois’ grand old Vermont house to visitors from all over. But Tía Lola and the children soon realize that running a B & B isn’t as easy they had initially thought–especially when it appears that someone is out to sabotage them! Will Tía Lola and the kids discover who’s behind the plot to make their B & B fail? And will Tía Lola’s family and friends be able to plan her a surprise birthday party in her own B & B without her finding out? ~Publisher Comments

This fourth and final installment of Julia Alvarez’s Tia Lola Stories ends on a high note: with a new beginning and another invitation. Tia Lola shouldn’t be easily discarded, and these stories are most certainly here to stay.

Tia Lola is all about helping those around her, whether they are family or community. The Espadas could use help as (the father) Victor deals with some (not uncommon) life-changing decisions. It is lovely when the solution for a source of Income can benefit more than the Espadas, but Colonel Charlebois, Tia Lola, and truly the community at large as well.

Of course not, everyone is pleased with this foreigner coming in and shaking things up—even if the change is needed—even if said hateful person brought trouble upon herself. We learn hard places can have good outcomes and bad ones, depending on the choices one makes, and depending on the support they have from family and community. Tia Lola responds to threat with caution and compassion, a good choice with a good outcome. Julia Alvarez proves deft yet again, in tackling the difficulties life can bring with courage and creative thinking—and the blessing of a greater world view.

In an increasingly familiar landscape of broken and re-stitched families Tia Lola continually brings her cultural upbringing with her, and not just to Vermont. In Ended Up Starting Over she shares her idea of family as Miguel’s and Juanita’s family is on the verge of growing exponentially.

“In this country, children have only nuclear families: mama, papa. That’s it!” She holds out two empty palms. “So few to love and be loved by. Back home, we have huge familias, with mama, papa, abuelitos, grandparents, tios, tias, uncles and aunts, primos, primas, cousins and more cousins, and many amigos. Now you , too, will have a big familia in this country.” (112)

Tia Lola maintains the children’s best interests in a world of adults and scary situations. She helps them problem solve, validates their feelings, and encourages their talents, as well as their innately compassionate natures. Combining families can be a good thing (it is in this case), but it is tricky. Change can be scary, and what might get lost along the way? The children should have a voice, and Tia Lola helps them find it. She is empowering and, I think, inspiring for the young Reader.

Julia Alvarez is a wonderful storyteller. The 3rd-person is not wholly limited but moves between characters at whim (and benefit), but each chapter does take on a singular primary character’s point-of-view. The shift of point-of-view allows for greater development amongst all the characters the stories have acquired. And each player has concerns that contribute to a more complex story. The shifting of narrative is also fun. Alvarez has written some great characters and a few favorites are bound to connect with the Reader–whether boy or girl.

The mystery helps balance the familial dramas, even as it facilitates some of them. Alvarez has a gift for not insulting her audience while yet keeping a light-heart. For all the tension and seriousness of situation, Tia Lola (who is oft vulnerable herself) is source of hopefulness, a wise figure, and determined. Her solutions are creative, and rarely obvious. Alvarez is consistent in these stories. There is whimsy and humor and a lot of heart in Tia Lola and this Tia Lola novel.

It is fun part of this last Tia Lola Story how the students must finally outwit the teacher. And with the celebration of the marvelous Tia Lola, Julia Alvarez finesses an ending in a beginning, and in a return to the beginning book How Tia Lola Comes to Visit Stay. Alvarez resolves more than a few of the mysteries experienced since the beginning: Just how old is Tia Lola? and How might Tia Lola actually come to stay? etc.  Such will please the Readers of previous books, and while I think the How Tia Lola Ended Up Starting Over has enough to please a new-to-Tia-Lola Reader, especially the Young Reader, it would be best to begin earlier.

Natalya swears by Return to Sender (Knopf, 2009). I, too, look forward to reading more from this versatile, yet consistently brilliant author, Julia Alvarez. Indeed, she has something for every age; she’s a writer of fiction and non-; a poet and essayist. Check her out.

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My review of How Tia Lola Came to Teach (Tia Lola Stories: Book 2).

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