book review: Can You See Me Now

9781558857834title: Can You See Me Now
author: Estela Bernal
date: Arte Publico; 2014
main character: Amanda “Mandy” Silva

Can You See Me Now is Estela Bernal’s first published novel. It’s the story of Mandy Silva whose father is tragically killed on her 13th birthday. Her mother blames Mandy for her husband’s death and proceeds to shuffle her daughter off to live with her grandmother. Grandmothers are good characters for books with family issues. They have the protagonist’s interests at heart but are far enough removed from the situation for their issues not with weigh down the story.

It seems Estela has always been the victim of school bullies, but a new girl, Paloma enters the school and easily becomes friends with Mandy. Rogelio, a nice enough boy with a weight problem and even more of a problem with bullies seems to become friends with Mandy and Paloma after a house fire. Does this sound like a book with too many issues, or just the way life is?

With a perception that makes her seem much wiser than her years, Mandy decides that the only way for her to heal her wounds is to begin to help others. And, so she does. Her road is a rocky one as we begin to experience the fullness of her character. With so much hurt and pain in this character’s life, Bernal manages to carry a gentle element of hope throughout the story. I almost hate to say that this book would be an excellent tool for counselors working with children who are overweight, being bullied or bullying others or for those experience grief because you’ll think this is an “issue book” filled with the author’s voice that directs young readers toward a more fulfilling life. And, that would be incorrect. Bernal let’s her character’s life play out, let’s her interact and react with other characters in ways that reflect real life situations. OK, Paloma was a bit didactic in explaining yoga to her friends, but it worked coming from this precocious young girl. Adults in the story were supporting characters who did not deliver messages on behalf of the author.

Can You See Me Now delivers a powerful message about taking control of one’s life by making good choices for ourselves, including the relationships we develop and maintain. An important, easy to miss message is how ordinary (i.e., not exotic) Latino life is.

This is a rather quick read that will leave you smiling.

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