Saturday, January 22, 2011

Princess of Las Pulgas

McKenzie, C. Lee. The Princess of Las Pulgas. Lodi, NJ: Westside Books, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

After the death of her father, Carlie's mom has to sell the beach-front home that Carlie and her brother grew up in and move the family to low-income Las Pulgas, literally The Fleas. Carlie is unwilling to fit in with the kids at her new high school, embarrassed to let her old friends see her new reduced circumstances, and unable to hold a real conversation with her mom or her brother. Even her cat runs away leaving Carlie completely alone. The only thing she has left are the memories of her father's advice in her head.

Poor Carlie. After watching her father slowly die of cancer, a move across town might seem trivial; upsetting, but trivial. Fights with her mom, not getting asked out, rude neighbors, or a "pushy" English teacher (in the Tina Fey Mean Girls way) might also seem trivial. But all together? Carlie is helplessly watching her life fall apart around her.

Carlie's main problem with her new life in Las Pulgas is all the "poor people," as she sees them. Almost everything she dislikes about the people around her can be attributed to, in Carlie's mind, the fact that they are poor, or at least more poor and classless than the people she new in Channing. Even though Carlie and her family are in Las Pulgas because of financial problems, she doesn't see anything that she could have in common with her new neighbors and classmates. She puts on a tough front, but it's pretty obvious (to everyone) that she's just scared. McKenzie portrayed this beautifully. Even though we see the whole thing from Carlie's point of view, we can see (though Carlie cannot) that the people she interacts with in Las Pulgas can see that she's just trying to make it through without ever trying to fit in. She holds herself apart both because she feels she's better than those around her and also because the kids at her high school terrify her, something they pick up on all too easily. Eventually she makes a couple friends, but there is no Big Lesson about class consciousness. ::sigh of relief::

And through all of this growing and learning on Carlie's part, there are play rehearsals. The junior class is putting on Othello, and Carlie has been cast, against her will, as Desdemona. Opposite smokin' hot Juan. And Juan, very sweetly, refuses to take Carlie's crap. He calls her out on her assumptions about her classmates and about him. He drives her nuts (in good and bad ways), but he also protects her from some of her other, scarier, problems at Las Pulgas High.

For a while, this pile-up of problems distracts Carlie from the pain of losing her father. It's not as though she forgets about him or even stops being sad. She's just dealing with all of this other things first. But her father's advice keeps sounding in her head telling her to be strong, something she doesn't know if she can do anymore. When she finally faces her feelings about her father (with the help the scene in which Desdemona must say goodbye to her father), it is so real. Spoiler: And I love that she is mad at him for dying at the same time that she feels guilty for wanting him to die in order to end his pain. Anger towards a deceased love one, simply because they're gone, is something that is not shown all that often, though it is somewhat normal. Carlie doesn't rage against God, she rages against her father in the course of her grief.

The Princess of Las Pulgas is an honest look at how Carlie deals with huge upheavals in her life, both a huge change of lifestyle and the death of her father. It still manages to be a suspenseful, romantic, and uplifting read.

The Princess of Las Pulgas is available for purchase now!

Book source: ARC provided by the publisher.

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Marissa said...

Once again you have written a beautiful, heartfelt review. You are very talented!

MissAttitude said...

Ooo possible intercultural romance between Carlie and Juan?

I didn't know Las Pulgas meant fleas, ack why would anyone give that name to a neighborhood? I like that this book doesn't sound like it tries to make a BIG POINT about class and that it's more naturally intserted in the story. And it sounds like this is a main character I won't like at first but I may grow to tolerate..

Excellent review as always!

Lawral the Librarian said...

Thanks Marissa!

MissAttitude - Well, I wouldn't want to give too much away, but Juan and Carlie's characters do make out a bit in the play. ;)

Carlie makes a lot of mistakes and assumptions in the beginning, but I didn't ever strontly dislike her. I think because we can see what's going on in her head, she manages to still be a sympathetic character even when she's being a bit bitchy.

anachronist said...

A very nice review indeed and the book sounds very interesting and original! After such a tragedy as Carlie's you really can forgive plenty of mistakes and tolerate to a quite significant level. Thanks!

cleemckenzie said...

You really pinpointed one of the biggest problems I had in writing Carlie's character--how to make a snobby girl sympathetic. I don't like snobs, but I really liked Carlie, so I had to show her as a sensitive, caring, intelligent girl who only needed some life experience to grow and understand the new people in her life.

Thanks for discussing a pivotal issue in this story.

Lawral the Librarian said...

anachronist - Thanks! I think that's part of it. Yes, she's in the wrong with her assumptions, but she's not mean-spirited or anything. She's just beyond dealing with petty things like her classmates.

C.Lee - Thanks for stopping by! I think you nailed Carlie's character! She grows out of her snobbiness (without the book getting preachy!) in a realistic way, especially since it wasn't like she was a HORRIBLE person to begin with. Just a snob.