Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Cruzita and the Mariacheros

Granillo, Ashley. Cruzita and the Mariacheros
April 2, 2024 by Carolrhoda Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Cruzita lives in Pacoima, California, where her great uncle has had a panaderia, Lupe's Bakery, since 1978. After his death, her grandmother, Mamá Vincenta, has inherited it, and she, along with Cruzita's mother, father, and Tia Pocha, are trying to keep it in business. None of them are as good at baking, so business is dropping. Often, her father ends up driving their food truck (aka "The Flamingo") to the homeless shelter to donate more product than they sell. Cruzita, who envisions herself a famous pop star if she is just given the chance, knows the way out of this dilemma: she and her best friend Kelli are going to enter the Rising Star Contest at the Encore Island Amusement Park and win enough money to save the bakery. When her parents tell her that a trip there is out of the question, she is devastated, especially when Kelli tells her of her own plan to go to the Encore Island in Nashville and enter. To make matters worse, Cruzita is not allowed to enjoy her summer vacation, but must work in the bakery, running the cash register. She tries a few times to drum up business by singing, but the word has spread that the baked goods are not up to their previous quality. Her cousins don't have to work because they are visiting relatives in Mexico. Cruzita doesn't do a great job, and Mamá eventually comes up with a plan. If Cruzita takes violin lessons from a mariachi studio run by Jaime, she won't have to work such long hours. This is a hard ask, because the kids at the studio speak a lot more Spanish than Cruzita does, and even though her great grandfather, whose violin Mamá gifts her, was a great player, Cruzita has never played. She does meet Araceli and Marcus at the studio, and they are very supportive. As the bakery's fortunes worsen, Cruzita becomes more and more determined to win the Encore Island prize. There is a new contest for Latin music that groups can enter by submitting a video rather than going to the park, so Cruzita and Araceli round up the students and come up with a performance for Mamá's birthday. When Kelli offers to pay the costs of Cruzita's trip to Encore Island Nashville, she jumps at the opportunity to go, since she has had a difference of opinion with her new friends. Will Cruzita be able to stay true to her family and also save the bakery?
Strengths: Cruzita's absolute belief that she can be a pop star by winning a contest perfectly embodies the magical thinking that many middle grade students embrace. Her distractibility as she "performs" for imaginary crowds is both painful and hopeful. The bakery's struggles are realistic, and the family's efforts to save it are heartbreaking. Cruzita's struggles with Spanish, a language spoken by her family, will resonate with readers who may themselves not speak the language that other members of their families do. Kelli was an interesting foil, and seeing her life through Cruzita's eyes underlined the differences between their family cultures. After reading this, I felt like I needed to do a deep dive into the music of Selena, so having a playlist included was very helpful.
Weaknesses: There are a growing number of tweens trying to save family businesses, so this isn't a new idea, although the inclusion of mariachi music sets it apart.
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed the family bakery setting in Meriano's A Dash of Trouble, Hirandani's How to Find What You're Not Looking For, or Wang's The Many Meanings of Meilanor the food truck family business in Torres' Stef Soto, Taco Queen. I can't think of any other middle grade novels that include mariachi music! 

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