My 10th and final book in the 48 Hour Book Challenge is Chasing the Jaguar by Michele Dominguez Greene. Chasing the Jaguar is the story of a 15-year-old Mexican-American girl, of Mayan descent, living in the barrio in Los Angles. Martika starts having strange dreams around the time of her quinceanera (a traditional 15th birthday celebration to celebrate a young girl becoming a woman).
When the wealthy daughter of her mother's employer is kidnapped, Martika sees images of the kidnapping, and of Jennifer held captive in an abandoned building. Martika learns from her mother that she is descended from a long line of curanderas (healers, or medicine women, with psychic powers). As she starts to learn about her gift, she had to balance this learning with helping to find Jennifer, restoring a precious Mayan artifact, keeping up with family responsibilities, staying on top of her schoolwork, and spending time with her best friend.
I was impressed by the thoroughness with which the Latin immigrant family lifestyle is portrayed. Martika's mother watches Spanish-language television, Martika grabs a quesadilla for lunch and eats tortillas for breakfast, and the book is sprinkled with Spanish phrases and Mexican traditions. Michele Dominguez Greene is clearly of Latin immigrant descent herself. She also knows Los Angles well. The book has an authenticity in both of these areas.
The text starts out with a bit too much brand-name dropping for my taste, and Martika is perhaps a little bit too good to be true. However, her struggle with her overprotective papi to assert her independence feels real. And the details of the Mayan history, and curandera powers, are fascinating. I also liked seeing a strong, smart heroine from a working class immigrant family. Overall, I think that it's a promising start to a new series, and I look forward to seeing what Martika will do next.
Michele Dominguez Greene (on IMBD) is an Emmy-nominated actress who starred in L.A. Law for five years. She is also a singer/songwriter of Latin and folk music. Although this is her first book, she has written two award-winning short screenplays and has contributed feature articles to several magazines. She is a native of Los Angeles and is of Mexican/Nicaraguan and Irish background. Greene says that the Latin family in which she grew up is very different from what is usually portrayed in popular culture and the media. "I hope Martika and her friends will be positive role models for young girls and inspire them to dream bit," Greene explains. "When girls feel the future offers them many possibilities, they are more likely to avoid pifalls like teen pregnancy."
Book: Chasing the Jaguar
Author: Michele Dominguez Greene
Original Publication Date: 2006
Age Range: 12 and up
Time Spent: 2 hours
Source of Book: I received a review copy of this book from Tara Koppel at Raab Associates.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.