How Tía Lola Came to Visit Stay (Book 1) by Julia Alvarez
A Yearling Book (Random House), 2001
Hardcover, 147 pages (w/ 2 page addition of a letter from the author, 2010)
Juvenile Fiction, ages 8-11
Moving to Vermont after his parents split, Miguel has plenty to worry about! Tía Lola, his quirky, carismática, and maybe magical aunt makes his life even more unpredictable when she arrives from the Dominican Republic to help out his Mami. ~Publisher’s Comments
Having raved about Julia Alvarez’s Tía Lola Stories twice already (for books 2 & 4) I will
try to keep this post brief.
“Había una vez…” Tía Lola begins. Once upon a time…And Miguel feels a secret self, different from his normal everyday self, rising up like steam from a boiling kettle into the air and disappearing inside Tía Lola’s stories. (18)
Tía Lola has a wonderful ability to transport those around her into an other world; one filled with vibrant color, foreign languages, and hope. For the Reader, Julia Alvarez does the same. In the terribly familiar landscapes of divorce, moving homes, rental agreements, new schools, cultural/racial differences, grieving, and heartache, Alvarez does not shy away from the difficulties these things create for her characters. What she does bring is compassion, a different perspective, and some creative solutions. She does this in the form of Tía Lola.
Tía Lola is a bit of a Mary Poppins Nanny McPhee character, but for a few very important distinctions. She appears more vulnerable; she experiences homesickness, she doesn’t want to be a source of embarrassment, she wants to be needed and wanted, and she gets lost. She doesn’t translate effortlessly into situations, not in the way we’ve come to expect anyway. Two, while magical, Tía Lola seems possible. And lastly, she is here to stay. We do not need characters or people like Tía Lola for only a little while, we want and need them around forever.
Tía Lola’s (great)nephew Miguel is the primary interest of the 3rd person narrative. Unlike the following books, which move fluidly and fairly frequently through other characters’ consciousness, How Tía Lola Came to Visit Stay very rarely moves away from Miguel. He is a great character to follow, for plenty of reasons, but I like it because he should appeal to male readers, especially those boys who love sports, their dad, and their mom, is an elder brother (or brother at all), and wants to belong while also wanting to be proud of where he comes from.
Miguel is having a very hard time with his parents’ divorce. He loves his dad and enjoys his dad’s company. His mother moved them away from family and friends for work in a rural town where they are the only brown people at school. He looks and feels like an oddity. He is helpless in witnessing his mom’s grieving of her own lost relationship. He isn’t all that sure of what to do with a sister who wants their dad at family events, too. Now this strange Aunt who is kind of embarrassing and who doesn’t want to learn English comes to visit. And the visit keeps going.
Miguel soon finds that Tía Lola’s presence is a balm, and not just her stories which allow him to escape the harsh realities of his life. She isn’t about running away, but confronting hurts and fears–and finding ways to do this. Tía Lola is also an opportunity for Miguel to discover himself, both individually and culturally. Alvarez finesses some beautiful and inspiring development in her characters, whether they are a protagonist or other. She does this within a single novel, and continues this over the course of the series. Like Tía Lola, reality and its pains are acknowledged, but there is a sincere sense of optimism, a true offering of hope. When are world is very small, our solutions to problems are sure to be. Miguel and his family are gifted more tools with which to work, more venues for expression, and a more vibrant place to inhabit. Julia Alvarez and her character Tía Lola do not just bring charm and sweet humor to the communities where they would visit stay, but possibility as well.
note: I read these Stories out of order (as the Library obtained them). You can, too, but they are most successful, I believe, in order. Still, Alvarez does not limit herself to formula in this series, each have their own creative aspects that hold them apart from the others. Read them all, read them with your grade-schooler, and don’t just revel in the cultural education aspects, but talk about the familial and social issues, too. Alvarez writes entertaining and informative and socially conscious really well. Enjoy.