Monday, May 3, 2010

El Lector

by William Durbin

Thumbs up.

Another winner from Mr. Durbin.  I've read nearly all of his children's books and they are wonderful.  Consistent well developed, lovable characters; interesting plots; well-researched historical settings.  I've always learned about some interesting piece of American history while eagerly devouring the story line.  And when I get to the end, I'm always sad to be done.

El Lector is set in Ybor City, Florida, in the Tampa area in 1931.  The citizens in this immigrant community are struggling during the depression to make ends meet,  while dealing with labor union issues and racial segregation and violence.

The title, El Lector, refers to Roberto Garcia, Ybor City's premier lector.  Senor Garcia is hired by the cigar rollers to read to them while they work.  He reads all the great works of fiction, plus newspapers and poetry.  Bella Lorente is his granddaughter and admires him greatly.  She desires to follow in his footsteps as a lector in a cigar factory.

As the plot unfolds, many hard things stymie Bella's pursuit of that goal.   In the end, she doesn't get exactly what she wants.  But due to her ingenuity and boldness, she finds something close that works for her and puts the family in a much more comfortable financial position.  Her perseverance helps her grandfather come to a peace with the modern times.

I really appreciate how Mr. Durbin portrays the Lorente family.  They struggle together through many hardships and although each has his or her own issues to overcome, they are able to mostly keep in good spirits with each other and help each other to grow and mature.  It's uplifting to read about a stable family working together to make difficult things work.

Additional historical tie-ins are references to the Spanish Civil War and the Cuban war for independence.  It would be a good companion read for The Surrender Tree which JennaT reviewed on this blog earlier.

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