Some may remember Diana López, who came to the 2007 Tejas Art and Book Festival to read from her novel Sofía's Saints. Diana has been in the news lately with the release of her second book, Confetti Girl.
Over the years, I have gotten to know Diana (pronounced Dee-Ahna) and her husband Gene, who just earned his doctorate of physical therapy from the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio.
At a get-together for some of our author friends, Gene regaled us with magic tricks. He is a really good amateur magician and told us the secret to great magic, it's a magician's patter, the talk before the trick that diverts an audience's attention. I never knew.
Diana, who was born and raised in Corpus Christi, told us all about this young adult book she was writing. I remember being amazed at the amount of young adult fiction she had been consuming.
All that homework paid off because a large publishing house, Little, Brown and Company, picked up the book she had been writing with 10-yearolds in mind. She had said she wanted to show another side to Mexican Americans in her book.
She had mentioned how there are so many immigrant and barrio/gang stories and books for Mexican American kids and how those are important stories but that she wanted to reflect other realities of Latino kids.
She wanted people to know that Mexican Americans aren't all mechanics and maids and all Latino men aren't always drinking beer and all Latina mothers aren't long-suffering, abused women who turn the other cheek and pray their rosaries. She said she wanted everybody to know that we're teachers, doctors, mayors, entrepreneurs and writers, too.
I recently received a copy of the book she had talked about back in 2007 and Confetti Girl does everything Diana set out to do.
The novel tells the story of a dysfunctional American family from the voice of a bitingly funny teenage girl, Apolonia Flores, Lina for short. From the get go we see that Lina is like most teens when she talks about her name.
"...The Flores part isn't so bad since it means 'flowers' in Spanish. But Apolonia?"
"What kind of name is that?" I asked my dad.
"It's the girl form of Apollo," he says. "He was the god of the sun. Get it? It's my way of calling you a sunflower."
"I'd rather be called Sun Flores. That's close enough don't you think?"
Mr. Flores, is a single-parent, and an English teacher, who is raising a daughter in Corpus Christi. He's a father who loves language and books so much that Lina says, "Sometimes when I dream about him, I see a body, a neck, and a book where his face should be."
López tells a compelling story about how the absence of a mother wreaks havoc on the life of a family. Lina is reminiscent of a young Sofia in López's adult book Sofía's Saints.
Still raw from the death of Mrs. Flores, Lina and Mr. Flores, negotiate their way through life and their love for one another in poignant scenes.
"The pier isn't very long but it's private and dark. I get to the end of it and sit on the edge, my feet dangling over the water. Little waves splash against the posts. My tears plop into the ocean. I've tasted tears before. They're salty, just like the water below, and I wonder if the ocean is made of tears from all the people and all the animals that have lost their mothers.
After a while, my dad comes and sits beside me.
"I miss her," I say.
He says, "I miss her too, m'ija."
Then he puts his arm around me and we spend a few minutes filling the ocean together."
As Apolonia grapples with the death of her mother, her best friend, Vanessa Cantu, is dealing with her own demons. She is trying to have a relationship with a boy despite her own mother's man-hating tendencies.
Vanessa's mother, still smarting from the fact that her husband left her for a younger woman, decides upon a business venture, which borders on obsession, making cascarones for Easter. The confetti egg serves as an excellent trope for the fragility of lives and relationships within the novel.
The depth and writing skills, which López honed in the MFA program at Texas State University, shows in her decision not to have the two single parents settle down together even though the storyline was driving in that direction.
Confetti Girl is a smart, well thought out book that any 10- year-old, or any person who has been 10, will enjoy reading. When Diana is selling millions of books, we can say we had her here first.