Study Guide

How the García Girls Lost Their Accents

How the García Girls Lost Their Accents Summary

The events in the novel happen in reverse order—moving backwards in time from 1989 all the way to 1956. These years span the lives of the four García girls, and are divided into three sections. The first, from 1989-1972, portrays the García sisters as adults. The second, from 1970-1960, covers their adolescence. And the third section, from 1960-1956, explores their childhood in the Dominican Republic, right up to the point where they must flee the country and seek exile in the United States. Each section is divided into five chapters, which are like short stories that focus on different members of the family.

Okay, now that we gave you the basics of this (not gonna lie, kind of complex) structure, let's give you the juicy details.

In the first section, Yolanda explores an identity crisis by trying to see if she fits in in the Dominican Republic. Fifi tries to make amends to her father for eloping by throwing him a birthday party that goes awry. We learn how fond Mami is of telling stories, even if it means bending the truth a little bit. The first section features not one, but two mental breakdowns—brought to you by Sandi and Yoyo—and Yoyo's breakdown has a lot to do with the end of her marriage to a jerk named John. The section ends with an exploration of Yolanda's sexual awakening, where she explains to us why she never had sex with a guy named Rudy Elmenhurst. Bottom line: because he was a jerk, too.

In section two (remember, section two happens chronologically before section one) the four García sisters get accustomed to the "American teenage good life" (2.1.6) but are forced to spend their summers with their overprotective relatives on the Island. Fifi gets in trouble and has to live there for a while, but the sisters stage an intervention and get her back. Mami explores a brief stint as an inventor, but ends up passing the title of creative genius on to her daughter, Yoyo. Carla is harassed by schoolyard bullies and stalked by a pedophile, which really doesn't help her transition to a new country (there's a shocker!). Yoyo freaks out about seeing snow for the first time. And Sandi catches a woman making a move on her dad... also totally weird.

In the third section, we finally get to the story about how Carlos (Papi) was almost arrested by Trujillo's secret police. He and his family manage to escape to the U.S., thanks to the help of a State Department official named Victor Hubbard, who's kind of a player but at least has Papi's back.

A household servant named Chucha mourns the family's departure, and thinks about death a lot—hint, hint. Yoyo is envious of the toys her male cousin gets, and agrees to show him her private parts in exchange for a trade. Sandi's artistic talent ropes all the de la Torre children into art lessons with the overbearing art teacher Doña Charito; but then she catches the teacher's husband doing something naughty with his sculptures and is so surprised she falls and breaks her arm.

The statue the sculptor is "working on" (if you catch our drift) ends up having Sandi's face. Carla gives her mechanical bank to one of the maids, who appreciates it way more than she does; then feels really bad when her parents fire the maid under suspicion of stealing. Yoyo gets a toy drum from her grandma, and uses it to smuggle a newborn kitten away from its mommy cat. No one is happy with this situation; Yoyo feels guilty and throws the cat out the window. The momma cat haunts Yoyo for the rest of her life. Yoyo explains that this is the central "violation" that exists at the center of her art.

  • Part 1, Chapter 1

    Hm... weird how the dates go backwards. We'd expect to see it written 1972-1989, not the other way around. Wonder what's up with that?

    Antojos (Yolanda)

    • It's been five years since Yolanda has been on "the Island" (1.1.1). Here to greet her are a bunch of black-clad old aunties, who seem to never change.
    • In case you're worried that Yolanda's welcoming committee is a little, uh, somber, fear not! Mixed in with the elderly, black-clad old ladies are the young cousins, wearing bright, tight jersey dresses. They look like an American Apparel ad.
    • Oh, and there's tasty, tasty cake. The little kids get a little too excited about the cake, and their nursemaids have to shut it down.
    • A skinny woman with brown skin and a black maid's uniform tells the hostess, Yolanda's aunt, that they're out of matches. Tía Carmen yells at the maid, who bows her head and clasps her hands in a gesture of pleading. ("Tía" means "Aunt" in Spanish.)
    • We figure out that this charming family reunion is taking place in the Dominican Republic. It's a Spanish-speaking country on the island of Hispaniola, in the Caribbean.
    • Tía Flor, who the cousins call "the politician" because of her big, fake smile, complains about "the help." Can you believe what the chauffeur did the other day? He let the car run out of gas!
    • Tía Carmen's patio is the meeting place for the whole family, because she is the widow of the man who was head of the family. So she has the biggest house. The cousins' houses are all connected to the big house by little paths.
    • In Yolanda's family, all the women stay home and take charge of the housework. Lucky for them, they have maids to do most of it.
    • The men in the family expect to come home to a hot meal. After they visit their mistresses, that is.
    • The aunts ask for a report on the "four girls"—Yolanda and her sisters. They "get lost up there" in the United States (1.1.25).
    • Yolanda gets tongue-tied trying to tell the story in Spanish, even though it's her native language. She's out of practice. And when she goes back to the States, she'll have the same problem in reverse. She won't be able to remember her English.
    • But Yolanda has a secret. She's not sure she's going back to the U.S. of A.
    • The aunts insist that Yolanda tell them if she has "any little antojo" (1.1.29). What's that?
    • Tía Carmen says that an antojo is a craving for something you just have to eat right now. Mmm... like, for example, some chili cheese fries.
    • According to an older meaning that the tías force one of the maids to explain, an antojo happens when a person is taken over by a saint who wants something. It's kinda like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but with saints who give you the munchies.
    • Well, if that's true then a very guava-hungry santo is living inside Yolanda right now. She wants to pick some guavas when she goes north.
    • The aunts freak out when they find out Yolanda is thinking about traveling to the north by herself. This isn't the U.S.! A woman can't just travel alone.
    • What's the big deal? Why is everyone so freaked out about security? And why do they have an armed guard patrolling outside their house?
    • Tía Flor smiles her eternal smile and says, "Things are looking ugly." There have been rumors of guerillas in the mountains (1.1.51).
    • No, not gorillas. Guerillas. Revolutionaries. With guns.
    • With a little historical context, we can start to figure out what Yolanda's aunts are so worried about.
    • So without further ado, we are pleased to bring you A Very Shmoopy Introduction to Dominican History.
    • In 1989, the President of the Dominican Republic was Joaquín Balaguer. Balaguer had already been President twice, from 1960-1962 and 1966-1978. How did he get elected so often? Was he super popular?
    • Well... sort of. During the long years of his presidency, the Dominican Republic experienced strong economic growth. Balaguer ordered the construction of lots of important infrastructure, like schools, hospitals, dams and roads. That's good, right?
    • But he wasn't very tolerant of opposition. If newspapers printed something he didn't like, he sometimes had them seized. Balaguer also had many political opponents jailed and even killed. Yikes.
    • Many of those who supported Balaguer were wealthy members of the upper-class. People like Yolanda's relatives. Many of his detractors, on the other hand, were poor people and the students and leftist activists who supported them.
    • Okay, thus ends the first installation of our Very Shmoopy Introduction to Dominican History. Stay tuned for more!
    • Back to the story. Yolanda's cousin's wife Gabriela pooh-poohs the old ladies' worries. Guerillas? Schmuerillas! Everything's gonna be fine! Let's light the candles on the cake!
    • Yolanda thinks about how confusing and difficult her life has been in the twenty-nine years since she left the Island (remember: the Island is the Dominican Republic). She closes her eyes and makes a wish before she blows out the candles: "Let this turn out to be my home."
    • Flash forward to Yolanda's drive north. She borrowed a car, and is zipping along over the hills, enjoying the peace and quiet. Ahhh, now this is what home feels like.
    • A bus full of men drives by, making Yolanda feel uncomfortable.
    • On the radio, all she hears is static. The faint, blurry voice she can hear beneath the static sounds like what she would sound like, if she were trapped in a car wreck. That's a morbid thought.
    • Yolanda drives by a big, expensive-looking house, probably owned by some distant relatives. All the wealthy families on the Island are related.
    • Yolanda comes to the village of Altamira. Looks like a great place for a pit stop.
    • She pulls up to a little cantina, where an old poster for Palmolive soap depicts a blonde, light-skinned woman taking a shower. It's kind of out of place here in this rural Dominican village.
    • And old woman and a shy little boy greet her. The boy is shy, the woman explains, because he's not used to being around "people" (1.1.69). And by people, she means rich people.
    • The little boy's name is José Duarte, Sánchez y Mella.
    • Fun fact: Juan Pablo Duarte, Francisco del Rosario Sánchez, and Matías Ramón Mella were the three most important leaders of the Dominican War of Independence, which gave the Dominican Republic independence from Haiti in 1844.
    • Yolanda asks the old woman if there are any guavas around. The little boy José Duarte excitedly tells her he knows where there's a whole grove of ripe ones.
    • For José and his friends, a car ride is a big deal, and will give them major bragging rights. So when Yoyo offers them a ride in her Datsun if they'll take her to the guava grove, they're super-stoked. José Duarte is co-pilot, obviously.
    • The little dirt road is ridiculously bumpy. But Yolanda has her eye on the prize, and in the end, it's worth it. Guavas for the win.
    • Yolanda and José get separated from all the other boys. And it's getting dark...
    • Yolanda remembers all those dire warning of her aging aunts: "you will get lost, you will get kidnapped, you will get raped, you will get killed"(1.1.83). Eek.
    • They find their way back to the car and try to hit the road. But they get a flat tire. Dum dum dum.
    • José Duarte offers to run to the big house to get help. It's owned by the Miranda family.
    • Oh, Yolanda thinks, he means good ol' Auntie Marina and Uncle Alejandro! Guess she's going to milk those family connections after all.
    • You know when you were little and you used to manipulate your younger siblings into doing stuff for you by promising them a nice, shiny penny? (No? Er... us neither.) Well, anyway, Yolanda is about to try the old bribe-the-kid-with-an-absurdly-small-amount-of-money trick.
    • She promises to give José Duarte one whole dollar if he can make it to the Miranda place and back by a certain time. The kid's jaw hits the floor, and he take off running toward the big house. Worked like a charm.
    • Suddenly, Yolanda hears footsteps. Two men emerge from the woods. They're carrying machetes. Uh-oh...
    • The men look big and strong, and Yolanda is terrified. Too terrified to notice they're actually pretty nice, and that they're trying to help her.
    • The two men very kindly put down their machetes, change the tire, and pick up after themselves. They are total gentlemen.
    • Yolanda tries to offer the men some money, but they both refuse.
    • One of the men looks down in a gesture of humility (just like Tía Carmen's maid did, earlier). Yolanda stuffs a roll of bills into his pocket.
    • Yolanda sees a small boy by the side of the road. It's José Duarte, and he's on the verge of tears because the guard at the Miranda place hit him for telling stories about a rich Dominican lady picking guavas after dark. Preposterous!
    • Yolanda gives José way more than the single dollar she promised him. But he's too ashamed to feel happy about it.
    • On her way out of town, Yolanda looks back and see the Palmolive poster. The poster-woman's "skin gleams a rich white" in Yolanda's headlights, and it looks like she's "calling someone over a great distance" (1.1.112).
  • Part 1, Chapter 2

    The Kiss (Sofía)

    • The four daughters go home for Dad's birthday every year. Every. Year.
    • And they never bring their husbands or boyfriends. The husbands are a little annoyed about this.
    • Every year, their dad gives them envelopes full of money. After all, "the revolution in the old country" has failed, and now it's every man for himself (1.2.7).
    • Revolution? What revolution? Why, we're so glad you asked! Because that brings us to A Very Shmoopy Introduction to Dominican History, Part II.
    • Back in the day, when the father of the four girls lived in the Dominican Republic, the country was ruled by a dictator called General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina.
    • Trujillo was otherwise known as "The Goat," or "Chapita," meaning, basically "Bottle cap." Why Chapita? Because he was so obsessed with looking like a military hero, he decorated his uniform with dozens of medals. The medals were pretty much meaningless—like bottle caps—but they sure were shiny. And that's what people called him when they were being nice.
    • T-Bag ruled the Dominican Republic with an iron fist for four decades, from 1930 to 1961. During this time he murdered and imprisoned political opponents, censored the media, and even massacred about 20,000 people, just because he didn't like Haitians very much.
    • Needless to say, this genocidal maniac had to watch his back, because plenty of people wanted to revolt against his oppressive regime. In the novel, the father of the four girls was one of those would-be revolutionaries.
    • In 1961, T-Bag was finally assassinated. The country rejoiced. We are talking literal dancing in the streets.
    • To celebrate the anniversary of T-Bag's death, Dominicans even invented a new holiday, which they called "la fiesta del chivo," or "the feast of the goat."
    • But guess what? After a brief flirtation with a democratically elected leftist government, and a much-resented U.S. invasion, the Dominican Republic was back to having an oppressive, right wing, authoritarian leader. This time it was Joaquín Balaguer (remember him?).
    • Balaguer was basically Trujillo's class pet, so let's call him Mini-T. Mini-T headed the Dominican government for much of the next two decades. It's easy to understand why many Dominicans felt the revolution against T-Bag had failed.
    • Whew. That brings us to the end of A Very Shmoopy Introduction to Dominican History, Part II.
    • Where were we? Oh yeah. Dad's a little depressed, because his entire life's work to abolish scary authoritarian leaders in his country has failed. So he might as well spoil his daughters.
    • This is the first year in a while that Sofía (the youngest) has been on speaking terms with her father. Chalk it up to the birth of her second baby, the father's first male heir.
    • The grandpa really loves this kid. Not only is he a male heir and named after his grandpa, but he's also pink-skinned and blue-eyed, like his German father. From the grandfather's point of view, light skin means there is "good blood" in the family.
    • Papi's sexism is really starting to make Sofía angry. What about Sofía's first child, a girl? Papi was never this excited about her.
    • The three eldest daughters are strong, independent, professional women with plenty of education. But they're still afraid to stand up to their father.
    • Sofía is the youngest, and she's a little different than her sisters. She dropped out of college, for starters. And she's really confident around men.
    • So here's how she met her husband, Otto:
    • She and her boyfriend (not Otto) go to Colombia on vacay, because they can't have a sleepover at home in New York. After they sleep together, Sofía loses interest in her boy toy. They break up in Colombia.
    • A couple of days later, Sofía meets a German tourist (Otto) on the street, and they fall in love.
    • When she gets back home to New York, Sofía's dad can tell something's up. He goes through her drawers and finds love letters from the German man.
    • Papi confronts Sofía, and all h-e-double-hockey-sticks breaks loose. He calls Sofía a whore, and accuses her of ruining the family's good name—his name.
    • Sofía finally stands up for herself. Her love life is none of Papi's business. She packs her things and leaves home for good.
    • Where does Sofía go? Why to Germany, of course! She shows up on her lover's doorstep and proposes marriage.
    • And that's how Sofía and Otto got married. The end.
    • Papi stops speaking to Sofía for months. And he still seems a little tense around her.
    • So it is a big deal that Sofía has managed to convince Papi and everyone else to hold his seventieth birthday party at her house this year.
    • And get this—she's even managed to get the husbands an invite.
    • But what Sofía most wants is to be friends with her dad again. Maybe if she throws the perfect party, he'll forgive her for everything.
    • So this party has to be epic. A band, balloons, food, buttons that say The World's Greatest Dad. No expense is too great. No cake is too chocolatey. No party favor is too cheesy.
    • And the party is a success. Lots of presents. An awesome band. Sofia is the hostess with the mostest.
    • During musical chairs, the fun starts to get out of hand. The third daughter (the divorced one) sits on men's laps, and the father gets his disapproving face on.
    • In fact, as it gets later and later, the father gets grumpier and grumpier. Uh-oh. Someone's feeling like a crankypants.
    • Papi is feeling really sorry for himself. He's going to die, and everyone will forget all about him. Whine, whine whine...
    • Um, and wine, wine, wine. Papi's had a bit too much to drink.
    • The solution is "Quick! Distract him! Let's play a party game!"
    • The third daughter blindfolds her dad and has him sit in the middle of the room. He pretends like he doesn't understand what's happening... but Papi knows what's up.
    • The girls tell him to guess who it is who's kissing him. Then they take turns giving him a peck on the cheek.
    • Papi is excited, and giggles like a schoolboy. He's a little bit drunk.
    • He guesses that it's Mami doing the kissing, or one of the daughters, every time. Papi never guesses any of the other women in the room, because that would be "disrespectful" (2.60).
    • This game between the dad and his daughters is getting disturbingly sexual.
    • After a few more rounds, Sofía notices that her father never guesses her name. Carla, Sandra, Yoyo... he says their names over and over. But she's not on the list.
    • After all her hard work to throw him this party, he still hasn't forgiven her! That's it. Sofía is going to make her father remember her, if it's the last thing she does.
    • Sofía sits on Papi's lap and gives him a kiss to knock all the other kisses out of the water. She sticks her tongue in his ear and swirls it around. Then, for good measure, she nibbles on his ear lobe.
    • If you're a little creeped out at this point, you're not alone. This is definitely venturing into incest territory.
    • This is not a daughterly peck. This is a big, wet, sex bomb of a kiss. In her dad's ear. In front of everyone. Uh-oh. And, um, gross.
    • Papi sits up, and he's not smiling anymore. He tears off the blindfold and glares at each of his daughters.
    • But when he gets to the youngest, his gaze falters.
    • Sofía is wearing the same brilliant, serene expression that she had when she stood up to her father the first time. This girl is a rock.
    • Guess what? Party's over.
  • Part 1, Chapter 3

    The Four Girls (Carla, Yolanda, Sandra, Sofía)

    • When "the four girls" were kids, they used to wear color-coded outfits that matched their mom's. So Papi would call them "the five girls."
    • Was the dad disappointed that he never had a son? Nah. "Good bulls sire cows," he would say. Basically, having daughters makes him even more of a man.
    • The oldest daughter grows up to be a child psychologist and writes a paper criticizing her mother's color-coding method. This hurts the mom's feelings (of course). At the next family get-together, she cries a little and says she was just doing the best she could.
    • The four girls pat the mom on the back and tell her what a good job she did. Then everybody drinks more wine.
    • And Mami decides to tell her favorite story about the oldest, Carla.
    • The mother might get the four girls confused sometimes, but she has one favorite story she likes to tell about each girl.
    • Carla's story is called "The Red Sneakers," and it goes something like this: when Carla was little, the family was really poor. Carla wanted red sneakers, but they couldn't afford any. One day, a neighbor gave Mami a pair of sneakers that were just Carla's size! But they weren't red. Carla threw a hissy fit about this, and threw the shoes against the wall. But later Mami caught Papi and Carla painting the sneakers red with a bottle of her nail polish. The end.
    • Even though the whole family knows the story by heart, Carla still loves to hear it because it means she's the center of attention.
    • Carla and her analyst husband share some inside jokes about the hidden meaning of the story.
    • Everyone's had too much to drink, and they're getting tired and cranky. Let's move on.
    • Yolanda, the third daughter, wanted to be a poet for a while, but eventually gave up. Now she's a teacher.
    • But Mami always wanted Yolanda to be a famous writer. She goes to all her poetry readings, which can actually be a bit embarrassing if Yolanda wants to read a steamy poem.
    • At one reading, Mami sits next to a a handsome, greying professor who turns out to be Yolanda's lover. They get to chatting, and Mami tells the lover the story of Yoyo on the bus. Here it is:
    • Yolanda's dad had a convention in New York, and the parents took Yolanda with them because she was losing all her hair and needed to see a specialist. The bus was super crowded, and the parents accidentally end up getting off without her. Parenting fail! They run after the bus and finally catch it. Yoyo hadn't even noticed their absence—she's too busy reciting a poem to a crowd of admirers. The End.
    • Yolanda reads her first poem, dedicated to her lover, Clive, the man her mother has been chatting with. It's called "Bedroom Sestina." Awkward.
    • Mami doesn't tell a favorite story about Sandra, the second daughter. She says she wants to "forget the past" (1.3.66).
    • The last story Mami told about Sandi was told to Dr. Tandlemann, a psychiatrist, explaining why Mami and Papi were committing Sandra to a mental hospital.
    • So here it is: Sandra went on a drastic diet, which Mami says drove her crazy. She was always very pretty, and it went to her head, Mami explains. Then she went away to graduate school and lost even more weight.
    • Until one day, the dean called to say Sandi was in the hospital. When Mami and Papi rushed to her bedside, they found she was reading obsessively. She said she couldn't stop, because she had to read all the world's greatest books before she turned into a monkey. And finally, after a few days of this, she held up her hands and screamed, "Monkey hands, monkey hands!" (1.3.106). The end.
    • Through the window, Papi sees Sandi walking with a nurse in the lawn. But Sandi turns and runs when she sees a giant lawnmower coming towards her that she thinks is a roaring animal. She doesn't see Papi waving at her.
    • Speaking of hospitals and monkeys...
    • ... Mami makes monkey faces at a newborn baby in a hospital nursery. It's her first grandchild.
    • Mami gets to chatting with a new father who's also looking at the babies. She tells him the story of how her youngest daughter, Fifi, met her husband, Otto.
    • We've heard this one before. Here's Mami's version: Fifi went on a chaperoned church trip to Peru. While there, she met this adorable, bumbling German tourist who didn't speak any Spanish, and helped him get a deal on a poncho. They fall in love, get married, and have a baby. The end!
    • Uh... isn't that a little different than the version we heard in the last chapter? No matter.
    • A week later, the four girls are hanging out at Fifi's place. The whole family is in town, but everyone else is still sleeping.
    • The girls are trying to tell each other the "true stories of how their lives are going," but everyone's a bit touchy. Sandi just got out of the mental hospital a month ago, and keeps crying. Yoyo's boyfriend Clive went back to his wife, again. And Carla is being her usual bossy self.
    • The girls can agree on one thing—Mami tends to twist the truth a little bit in her storytelling.
    • Mami, Papi and the husbands wake up and join the sisters, and Mami starts telling the baby a story. Everyone falls silent to listen.
  • Part 1, Chapter 4

    Joe (Yolanda)

    • Yoyo has too many nicknames. It makes her feel like she has multiple personalities.
    • She's thinking this while standing at a window, watching a man she calls Doc walk across the lawn. She invents a playful story about him that is more about rhyming and language than it is about plot.
    • Yolanda stops making up a story about Doc, and starts telling Doc her own story. It's flashback time.
    • This is the story of Yolanda's love life. At the beginning of time (okay, maybe a slight exaggeration), she and John were in love. They made love like animals in Paradise.
    • But then John had to go ruin it by saying he loves her, and making her say she loves him. This freaks Yolanda out—there's something dangerous about those three little words.
    • Then John insists they get married. Yolanda has a really bad feeling about this. There's a little voice inside her head waving its arms and screaming, "I object!" But does she listen? Nope.
    • Scene Two. The lovers lie in the grass by a pond and play word games. Yolanda is pretty quick with the rhymes, but John can't really keep up. Especially when Yolanda uses Spanish words.
    • Scene Three. John and Yolanda are in the middle of a huge fight. John says Yolanda needs to go see a "shrink." She's crazy, he thinks, and he's perfectly normal.
    • Scene Four. Yolanda begins to realize she and John just aren't on the same wavelength. John believes in Objectivity with a capital 'O'. Yolanda believes in words and emotions and different perspectives.
    • They have another huge fight when Yolanda finds a list of "Pros and Cons of marrying Yolanda." On the "cons" side, John wrote "Crazy?"
    • Yolanda has been seeing a "shrink" called Dr. Payne. She calls him "Doc," because "Payne" sounds too scary. (Yep, he's the tennis player from the beginning of the chapter.)
    • John tries to convince Yolanda to get over her anger by bringing her in for a kiss. But she just feels like he's forcing her to swallow her words. She screams, "No!" and pushes him away.
    • Scene Five. Yolanda and John are lying in bed. John is trying to convince Yolanda to make love, but she doesn't want to. He keeps trying, until finally Yolanda leaps out of bed, cursing.
    • Yolanda's heart folds up and flies away. It just "lifted up to the cloud flowers in the sky" (1.4.94). We take this as a bad sign for the future of her and John's relationship.
    • Scene Six. John comes home with some irises for his wife. But when he tries to give them to her, she can't understand what he's saying. All she hears is "babble babble babble."
    • Scene Seven. Yolanda writes her husband a note, saying she's leaving, and goes to her parents' house.
    • Yolanda can't stop quoting things. She talks nonstop, until her parents get so worried they check her into a mental hospital.
    • Scene Eight: Yolanda develops a serious crush on Doc. He's going to make everything better. Plus, he's super dreamy in his work out clothes.
    • Yolanda stops quoting things. She tells her parents she loves them, and that she and John "just didn't speak the same language."
    • Scene Nine: Yolanda is in a therapy session with Doc. She asks him what "love" means, but she can't look him in the eye, or he'll be able to tell that she's in love with him.
    • Yolanda can't say certain words out loud without breaking into an allergic rash. Like "love" and "alive."
    • Okay, thus ends the flashback of the Life of Yolanda/Yo/Joe/Yoyo.
    • We're back in the hospital, and Yolanda is at the window, watching Doc. She thinks she might start writing again.
    • Yolanda's tummy hurts and starts to rumble. Is it indigestion? Hunger? A heart attack? Nope. It's a giant, black bird that flies out of her throat. Uh, weird.
    • The black bird flaps its wings and flies out the window, right through the screen. It sees Doc on the lawn below, and dive bombs him. The bird tears open Doc's chest and flies away. Doc is a "red sop" (1.4.158).
    • Aww, not Doc! Not the one person in the world that Yolanda wants to protect from her own words.
    • When Yoyo calls out to him, Doc stands up and grabs his red beach towel. What Yoyo thought was blood becomes terry cloth. Whew.
    • "Oh, Joe!" Doc laughs and waves. And then Yoyo starts to feel a little itchy... oh no. She's allergic to her own name.
    • Yoyo tries to get over her word allergy by saying the words out loud, and then placing them into the "empty nest" where her heart used to be (1.4.140). She gets more confident as she goes along, saying "love," and then "Yolanda."
    • Sounds like Yolanda the poet has got her groove back. Get it, gurl. "There is no end to what can be said about the world," the chapter ends.
  • Part 1, Chapter 5

     The Rudy Elmenhurst Story (Yolanda)

    • When they were young, Yolanda and her sisters took turns competing to see who could be the wildest. For a couple of years, while Yolanda was in boarding school, she was the one to win the title.
    • If Yolanda were to be crowned "Little Miss Wild Child," she'd have to give an acceptance speech that started like this: "I'd like to thank all the shy prep school boys who made this possible. I couldn't have done it without you, and my vivacious personality."
    • Thing is, Yolanda was just hanging out with these boys. They talked, they flirted, they blushed. But there was never any bodily contact.
    • When she got to college, Yolanda was still "vivacious." Her flirting skills were in fine form.
    • But she couldn't keep a boy interested. Why not? Yolanda's theory is this: the boys lost interest because she wouldn't have sex with them.
    • If that seems harsh, unfair, or just plain wrong to you (like it does to us), Yolanda asks us to consider the context:
    • It was the late sixties. In many ways, social rules about sexual behavior were really loosening up. As Yolanda puts it, "everyone was sleeping around as a matter of principle" (1.5.3). It was a sexual revolution, man.
    • But the new standards of sexual behavior meant that you were pretty much expected to have lots of sex in college. If you didn't, you were weird.
    • Yolanda wasn't ready to jump on board the "free love" train, and as a result, she wasn't going to win any popularity contests.
    • What made Yolanda different? Maybe if she analyzes this story about her first college boyfriend, she'll figure it out. Here goes:
    • There's this boy. His name was Rudolf Brodermann Elmenhurst, The Third. Yolanda meets him in her English seminar.
    • Yolanda feels out of place. But maybe Rudolf Brodermann Elmenhurst, The Third will be her friend. After all, he has a funny name, too.
    • It all starts when Yolanda lends him a pencil. That night, Rudy returns the pencil to Yolanda... in her dorm room.
    • Rudy invites her out for lunch, which turns into dinner. Yolanda is in major crush mode.
    • Rudy is super sexy, and super cool. He's so cool, he doesn't even bother turning in his homework on time.
    • Yolanda spends her weekend helping Rudy do his late work, which is to write a love sonnet a.k.a. the best excuse for a second date we've ever heard of.
    • Rudy's sonnet is full of sexy double meanings that Yolanda is too naive to understand. He has to explain them to her.
    • She curses her immigrant origins. If she weren't an immigrant, she wouldn't feel so dorky. She'd be having sex, smoking pot, and cursing, just like everybody else.
    • Yolanda starts hanging out with Rudy a lot, and going to parties in his dorm.
    • The parties involve a lot of alcohol and drugs, but Yolanda is too nervous to experiment. She's afraid if she loses control, Rudy might take advantage of her.
    • Rudy is super-offended that Yolanda thinks he would do such a thing.
    • But Yolanda doesn't like the way Rudy talks about sex. Instead of referring to it as "lovemaking," Rudy has a whole series of crude terms for sex. We'll let you look them up (1.5.26).
    • After a month of sexual abstinence, Rudy starts to lose his patience.
    • Yolanda sees a picture of Rudy's youthful, American parents in his dorm room one morning. They're so cool—no wonder Rudy doesn't have any hang-ups or insecurities.
    • Yolanda wishes her parents could be cool and hip. But instead they're just old-fashioned and embarrassing.
    • When Rudy tells his cool parents he's seeing a "Spanish girl," they tell him they're psyched that he's learning about people from other cultures.
    • Uh... first of all, Yolanda's not "Spanish," she's Dominican. And second of all, what do they think she is? A geography lesson?
    • The night before spring break, right before the break-up, Yolanda and Rudy have a big fight in bed. Here's how it all goes down:
    • Yolanda is wearing a long-sleeved flannel nightgown, or, as Rudy calls it, a "nungown."
    • Rudy is buck naked.
    • Yolanda thinks Rudy's body looks pretty scrumptious, but she wants more than just a nice set of sculpted abs. She wants an emotional connection!
    • Here's where Rudy gets really offensive. He says he thought Yolanda would be "really free," since she's "Spanish and all." But instead she's even more "hung up" than most American prep school girls (1.5.33).
    • Yolanda puts her coat on over her pjs and storms out. But secretly she hopes Rudy will come after her so they can make up. Dream on, Yolanda. Cue every breakup song you've ever heard.
    • The next morning, Yolanda bumps into Rudy and his parents. Awkward.
    • Rudy's parents speak extra slowly to her, and compliment her on not having an accent when she speaks English.
    • After spring break, Rudy doesn't sit next to Yolanda in English class anymore.
    • Yolanda deludes herself into thinking that Rudy is just waiting for the big spring dance to make up with her. She has the fantasy all worked out: they'll dance all night, and cry, and make up, and say: "I love you, shmookykins!" And then they'll make love for the first time.
    • Only, it doesn't pan out like Yolanda plans. The night of the dance, she sees Rudy with another girl.
    • So the Rudy Elmenhurst romance only ends in tears. Rudy the bad boy is a big jerkface, and Yolanda the timid good girl is brokenhearted. Ugh. How depressing.
    • But wait, there's more.
    • Five years later, Yolanda has so moved on. She's had time to figure out the whole sex thing on her own terms, and she's had a couple of lovers.
    • When one night, Yolanda gets a call from out of the blue. It's Rudy.
    • He wants to stop by. It's kinda late, but Yolanda says okay.
    • Rudy comes over and brings an expensive bottle of wine. From the moment he walks in the door, he's trying to put the moves on Yolanda.
    • Finally, Rudy comes out and says it: he's waited five years, and it looks like Yolanda's finally over her sexual hang-ups. Enough talking, let's get naked.
    • Um, ew! What a scumbag. Yolanda kicks him out.
    • But he left behind an expensive bottle of wine. So there's that.
    • Yolanda struggles with the cork for a while, but finally she puts the bottle between her legs and yanks it out. And splashes expensive red wine all over herself.
    • This is a really sexual description of the act of opening a bottle of wine. The narrator, Yolanda, is breaking the seal of a bottle held between her legs. And when it's all over, her clothes have a red stain on them.
    • We bet you'll never look at a wine bottle the same way again.
    • The last line of this chapter is so satisfying. Yolanda takes a swig straight from the bottle, like a "decadent wild woman" who has just told an "unsatisfactory lover" to get lost.
  • Part 2, Chapter 1

    Hang on to your seats, Shmoopers: that dizziness you're experiencing is the perfectly natural result of jumping back in time. We've skipped a couple of years, but hey—nothing important happened in 1971, anyway? Besides, you know, Disney World, floppy discs, desegregation, and Bangladesh. And a few other things.

    Are you ready to dive into the swingin' sixties? Backwards? Here we go:

    A Regular Revolution (Carla, Sandra, Yoyo, Fifi)

    • At first the family's stay in the United States is meant to be temporary. But when Papi goes back to the Dominican Republic on a "trial visit," a revolution breaks out (2.1.1).
    • So it looks like the family will be staying in the U.S. The four girls are not. happy.
    • Back in the DR, they had all the best that money could buy—servants, cars, expensive clothes, fancy toys. Here in the U.S. they have to wear second-hand clothes and live in rented houses in the middle of suburbia. Ugh.
    • Then "a few weird things happen." Carla is stalked by a pervert, the kids at school start using racist slurs, and Mami finds out that Sandi used a tampon. Two of these things are really awful. The third is only really awful if you're Mami.
    • So Mami and Papi send the girls to prep school, to meet the "right kind" of Americans (2.1.5).
    • Boarding school is a lot better than suburbia. There are football games. And dances. And boys.
    • Wouldn't you know it, as soon as the girls start having a good time in the U.S., Mami and Papi decide they're becoming too American.
    • That's it. Summer vacation on the Island, with the familia, from now on.
    • So the girls develop an underground system to keep each other out of trouble. On Friday or Saturday nights, one girl would take a turn being "on duty." That means she had to stay home to field Mami and Papi's phone calls while the other girls were out on dates.
    • Of course, the "on duty" daughter didn't tell her parents that her sisters were out on dates. Instead, she'd say they were in the library. Studying.
    • But sometimes, despite their best efforts, the girls got in trouble anyway.
    • The night before the four girls go back to the Island for the summer, the girls are packing. They make fun of their aunts, cousins, and uncles to make themselves feel better.
    • Fifi holds up a baggy of marijuana and asks her sisters for advice: should she try to take it to the Island?
    • The sisters are debating whether they could get away with smuggling the marijuana through customs, when Mami comes back into the room. Quick—hide the pot.
    • Fifi throws the baggy behind a bookcase and forgets about it. We have a bad feeling about this...
    • Three weeks later, Mami makes an emergency trip to the Island to interrogate her daughters about the marijuana.
    • Surprisingly, Fifi steps up and takes the blame. The other girls try to claim shared responsibility, but Fifi denies their involvement. It's all hers.
    • Okay, but here comes an even bigger surprise—Mami decides to keep the news of Fifi's pot smoking from Papi.
    • Mami doesn't want Papi to find out about this and send everyone back to the Dominican Republic for keeps. That's 'cause she's got "her own little revolution brewing" (2.1.43). She's been taking business classes.
    • As punishment, Fifi has to stay with Tía Carmen on the Island for a whole year.
    • By Christmas, Fifi's sisters are dying to see how she's getting on. When they go to visit, Fifi's had a makeover. She looks like a model.
    • She's also dating someone... their illegitimate cousin, Manuel Gustavo.
    • The sisters decide Manuel Gustavo is their favorite cousin. At first they flirt with him and wait on him hand and foot. It's like they've forgotten all about life in the States and feminism.
    • But when Fifi starts to get jealous, the girls cool it with Manuel Gustavo. And they start to notice some things about him that they don't like. Like the way he tells Fifi what to do all the time. And how he won't let her talk to another man, or leave the house without his permission.
    • One day Manuel Gustavo yells at Fifi for reading a book.
    • So, the three sisters sit M.G. down for a talk. Time to teach him a thing or two about women's rights. It doesn't go so well.
    • Fifi is worried that she and M.G. are getting close to having sex, and she doesn't have any access to contraception. M.G. won't use a condom, because he thinks "it might cause impotence" (2.1.93).
    • Insert sigh of exasperation here.
    • If Fifi gets pregnant, she'll be forced to marry M.G. And then she'd be stuck in the Dominican Republic forever.
    • One night, out on the town, cousin Mundín thinks it'll be funny to take the girls to a "motel." Only it turns out not to be a "motel" so much as a "brothel."
    • On the way home, the girls see M.G.'s car pulling into the motel. Fifi and M.G. are here, and that can only mean one thing...
    • It's time for an intervention. Or better yet... a revolution.
    • Here's how it works: Normally, all the cousins cover for Fifi and M.G. when they want to go off alone to hook up. But not this time.
    • On Saturday night, the girls force their cousin Mundín to take them back to the house early. Before Fifi and M.G. have gotten back. That means the grown-ups will know Fifi and M.G. are out without a chaperone.
    • When they get back to the house, Mami loses it. That's it—Fifi is coming back to the States. No objections.
    • Of course, that's what the sisters intended all along. Clever girls.
    • But just as they're savoring their moment of triumph and liberation from the Island with its oppressive, sexist ways, Tía Carmen gives them a big hug and tells them she'll miss them. Aw, shucks. Now they feel bad.
    • When Fifi comes home, she gets a lecture. And she is mad. She calls her sisters "traitors" (2.1.155).
    • But the sisters know they have helped Fifi. They won't let her hide on the Island just because she's afraid "of her own life" (2.1.157). She has her whole life in front of her.
  • Part 2, Chapter 2

    Daughter of Invention (Mami, Papi, Yoyo)

    • Hey, guess what? This chapter is the first we see that doesn't just focus on the story of Yoyo or her sisters. In this chapter we get to know Yoyo's parents—especially her mom.
    • Turns out Yoyo's mom has a name. It's Laura García.
    • When Laura first moves to the U.S., she dreams about becoming rich and famous for inventing something awesome.
    • Every night, she sits up sketching her ideas on a pad of paper. When her daughters try to interrupt her, she shoos them away.
    • Thing is, some of her daughters' complaints are pretty legit. Yoyo, for example, tries to tell her the kids at school are throwing rocks at them.
    • We can tell Mami is upset, but she just tells Yoyo to toughen up. "Sticks and stones don't break bones," she says.
    • Laura's daughters call her Mami when she's being a good parent, and Mom when she lets them down. This is one of those Mom moments.
    • When Laura has a flash of brilliance, she runs to tell her daughter. She promises that when she makes her first million, she'll buy Yolanda a brand new typewriter.
    • Laura has come up with some pretty wild ideas: a shower head that sprays soap, a keychain with a timer on it to tell you when your parking meter is about to expire, a car bumper with a detachable can opener.
    • She even thought of the roller suitcase. The roller suitcase! Where would we be today without it?
    • But Yoyo and her other three daughters aren't very encouraging. Laura always ends up tossing her sketches in the trash.
    • One night, Laura is reading The New York Times in bed, when she lets out a yelp that nearly gives her husband Carlos a heart attack.
    • Carlos wakes up in a panic that the Dominican secret police (the SIM) have come for them. Paranoid much? Yeah... living under an oppressive dictatorship for a few years will do that to you.
    • Don't worry, it's not the SIM. It's... a roller suitcase! Some American dude stole her idea!
    • Forget it. She's tired of trying to compete with the Americans. Her inventing days are over.
    • Laura only picks up her pencil and pad of paper one more time, and it's to help out one of her daughters. It's kind of a long story. Here it is:
    • Yoyo has been selected to deliver the Teacher's Day address in front of the entire school. And she's only a ninth-grader.
    • Yoyo's really good at writing stories and stuff. But a speech sucking up to the teachers? That she has to read out loud? In front of everyone? This is going to be so embarrassing.
    • She tries to think of a way to get out of it. Maybe her mom can call the school and say she's in a coma?
    • Laura tries to encourage her daughter. Everyone gets writer's block. Abraham Lincoln? Writer's block. Shakespeare? Writer's block.
    • It's like the American saying goes: "Necessity is the daughter of invention." Well, the phrase is actually: "Necessity is the mother of invention." But close enough, right? (2.2.36).
    • Finally, the night before the speech, Yoyo is sitting around, browsing some poetry by Walt Whitman.
    • Whitman writes some really edgy stuff. In his poem he says: "I celebrate myself and sing myself" and "He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher" (2.2.39).
    • In other words, he's not singing anyone else's praises, like poetry so often does. He's saying: "I'm the man!"
    • This totally inspires Yoyo. She cranks out five pages in no time.
    • She reads it to her mom, who pronounces it "beautiful." Her daughter is going to be famous!
    • Let's read it to Papi.
    • Yoyo proudly reads her speech. When she's finished, her mother is proud. She's radiating pride, in fact. But her dad? Not so much.
    • He's furious. This speech is disrespectful! It's insubordinate! It's improper! He forbids Yoyo to deliver that speech!
    • Laura tries to defend her daughter, but that just makes Carlos even angrier. His daughters and wife are becoming independent American women. The horror!
    • Carlos rips Yoyo's speech into tiny shreds.
    • Yoyo is so mad, she calls her father by his worst enemy's famous nickname: "Chapita!" In other words, Papi is acting just like the dictator Trujillo right now. Oh, burn.
    • Later that night, Laura helps her daughter write a new speech. It's polite and complimentary. Completely boring, but it'll do.
    • Yoyo is a hit at the assembly.
    • When Carlos comes home from work that night, he has a surprise for Yolanda. He apologizes to her, and gives her a new electric typewriter.
    • Yoyo always thinks of that last-minute speech as her Mami's last invention. It was Mami's way of passing her the buck.
  • Part 2, Chapter 3

    Trespass (Carla)

    • On the one-year anniversary of their move to the United States, the Garcías have a cake to celebrate. Only Carla doesn't want to celebrate. She hates it here.
    • The family lives in the suburbs now, and it is totally lame.
    • At the end of the block is a big sign that says "No Trespassing." At first Carla thinks this is a reference to the Lord's Prayer. But Mami explains it means "Keep out." Why is English so complicated?
    • Carla has to go to a school that's pretty far away, because the seventh grade at the Catholic school near their house is full.
    • The new school is no fun. A gang of boys bullies Carla on the playground every day. They throw rocks at her, lift up her shirt to make fun of her flat chest, and call her a "dirty spic." They tell her she doesn't belong here, and to go back to where she came from (2.3.6).
    • Carla's emotions are all mixed up. She's:
    • a) ashamed of the changes her body is going through (because let's face it, adolescence is a pretty awkward experience).
    • b) excited that she gets to get away from her family for the first time in her life.
    • c) terrified of this gang of blond, light-skinned thugs.
    • But she also seems a little fascinated by these American boys. She watches them in the classroom and on the playground, where they like to talk about cars.
    • One day on the way home, Carla is followed by a creepy man in a green car. The man waves her over, and Carla figures he wants to ask for directions.
    • But when Carla bends down to look in the car window, the man doesn't want directions. He's not wearing any pants, and he wants Carla to get in the car with him. Gross.
    • Thankfully, Carla gets away from the creepy man and runs all the way home.
    • Mami calls the police, which makes the whole situation even more freaky.
    • The policemen are super intimidating, with their guns, and their deep voices, and their big muscles. The big, scary policeman tells Carla there's nothing to be afraid of. In his scary, scary voice. Yeah, right.
    • Carla has to figure out how to describe her humiliating encounter to a scary police officer in a foreign language. And she doesn't even know the word for "penis." Sigh... this is going to be impossible.
    • But she finally manages to get the idea across. Thank goodness. Is it over yet?
    • For the next two months, Carla's mom takes her all the way to school, and picks her up again at the end of the day.
    • The boys are scared of her mom, so they finally back off.
    • But Carla never forgets the gang of white boys who tormented her. She has nightmares about them sitting at the foot of her bed, telling her to "Go back!" (2.3.80).
    • Carla shuts out their voices by closing her eyes and praying for all the people she loves. The list of names of people who love her makes her feel safe.
  • Part 2, Chapter 4

    Snow <em>(Yolanda)</em>

    • Yolanda's very first year in the United States, she has a really awesome fourth-grade teacher named Sister Zoe.
    • Yolanda gets her very own special seat in the first row by the window. That way Sister Zoe can give her extra help with her English.
    • Sister Zoe tells the kids about what's going on in Cuba. The Russians are building missiles, and aiming them at the United States. New York City could go ka-boom at any minute.
    • She's referring to an incident called the Cuban Missile Crisis, which some historians say is the closest we ever came to nuclear war. In October of 1962, the U.S. government discovered that the U.S.S.R. was building nuclear missile bases in Cuba.
    • Don't worry—all involved parties took a few deep breaths and removed their fingers from the big red buttons. That's why we're all still alive today. Phew.
    • But keep in mind, Yolanda and her classmates have no idea how the crisis is going to end. Will New York City be wiped off the map in a nuclear explosion?
    • Sister Zoe gives the kids a lesson that could be titled: "What Nuclear Bombs Do and Why They are No Fun."
    • Exhibit A: The Mushroom Cloud: Kind of like a mushroom, but less tasty.
    • Exhibit B: The Radioactive Fallout: Powdery white stuff that will fall on your head and kill you.
    • Winter comes. It's December.
    • One day, Yolanda sits in her special seat by the window and sees little white dots in the air.
    • Yolanda freaks out. Radioactive fallout! They're all going to die! She starts screaming, "Bomb! Bomb!"
    • A few of the students start to cry. Sister Zoe looks shocked—but then she relaxes. That's just snow, Yolanda.
  • Part 2, Chapter 5

    Floor Show (Sandi)

    • Mami is giving her four girls a lecture on how to behave on a fancy night out to dinner with "the important Fannings" (2.5.6).
    • Fifi, the youngest, starts to cry that she doesn't want to go to the dinner.
    • "But why on earth not?" Mami asks. Um... maybe because you're making sound about as much fun as going to the dentist, Mom.
    • Mami is like: No, really! It's going to be so much fun! The restaurant will be fancy! And Spanish!
    • No one is believing this act.
    • Mami starts doing her best flamenco impression, but stops when she remembers the cranky neighbor downstairs, La Bruja—the Witch. She doesn't like the Garcías because they are foreigners, and calls them "Spics!" Not cool, Bruja. Not cool.
    • Papi comes home in a good mood. Time to get dressed up and go out.
    • It's nice to see Papi in a cheerful mood, because lately he's been really stressed. You know, what with his relatives in the Dominican Republic being imprisoned and murdered and all.
    • Plus he's having trouble getting an American medical license, and he's running out of money.
    • Dr. Fanning is helping Papi get a job, which is why he's so important.
    • Sandi figures if she's really good, maybe the Fannings will adopt her and she can give her allowance to her real family.
    • At dinner, Dr. Fanning tells Papi about a job he found for him. Papi is grateful, and a little embarrassed.
    • Mrs. Fanning starts to drink heavily.
    • Sandi checks out the restaurant. See, La Bruja is an idiot. All these Americans paid money to come to a Spanish restaurant. Spanish is cool.
    • Sandi has to go to the bathroom. Papi and Mrs. Fanning accompany her.
    • Outside the restrooms, Mrs. Fanning starts flirting with Papi. Then she actually kisses him—on the lips.
    • What is a married American lady doing kissing her father? That is so uncool.
    • Sandi looks at herself in the mirror, and realizes for the first time that she's actually pretty. And with her light hair and eyes, she could totally pass for an American. She knows what this means: she'll never have to go back to where she came from, if she doesn't want to.
    • Father asks Sandi to keep the kiss a secret from her Mami. Mrs. Fanning was just drunk. Papi can't risk embarrassing the Fannings.
    • Back at the table, Mrs. Fanning keeps drinking a lot of wine. Finally, Dr. Fanning cuts her off.
    • Finally, the floor show starts. The six caballeros (gentlemen) and six damas (ladies) dance passionately with one another. Sandi thinks the ladies look like they want to take their clothes off in front of the men.
    • The dancers make Sandi feel full of joy; her "heart soared" (2.5.77).
    • Mrs. Fanning ruins it, though, by jumping on the stage and clowning around with the dancers. The crowd goes wild.
    • But Sandi is upset. Mrs. Fanning has "broken the spell of the wild and beautiful dancers" (2.5.87). That jerk.
    • After the dancing fiasco, a dancer approaches the table with a basket full of little-girl bait: Barbie dolls dressed as tiny flamenco dancers. To a six-year-old, they are totally irresistible.
    • When the dancer offers her a doll, Sandi ignores her mother's death-glare and says "yes, please!" She figures her dad owes her for asking her to keep his secret.
    • Papi says yes, but we know he's in a tough spot. Dr. Fanning is already paying the bill, and Papi doesn't even know if he has enough money to pay for the dolls.
    • The drunken Mrs. Fanning asks what's going on.
    • Sandi sees her opportunity, and she takes it. She tells Mrs. Fanning that she would like a doll.
    • Mami and Papi object, but in the end, Mrs. Fanning gets her way. The Fannings pay the bill, doll included.
    • Mami forces Sandi to thank Mrs. Fanning. She really doesn't want to. But Mami insists.
    • So Sandi makes her new doll do the work. The doll hops up to Mrs. Fanning and gives a little bow.
    • Then she holds the doll right up to Mrs. Fanning's face, so that she has to cross her eyes to see it. She makes the doll give Mrs. Fanning a kiss on the cheek: Smack. And then she says: "Gracias."
  • Part 3, Chapter 1

    To the time machine! We've already gone backwards through the '80s, sailed through the '70s, and swung through the '60s. Now we jump back to the late 1950s, the García family's final years as residents of the Dominican Republic.

    Keep in mind that, at this time, General Trujillo is still large and in charge. You do not want to mess with him.

    Okay, here we go: It's 1960, and we're on the Island.

    The Blood of the Conquistadores (Mami, Papi, the Four Girls)

    Part I

    • Carlos spots two suspicious looking dudes walking up his driveway. They're carrying guns. Uh-oh.
    • He signals to the cook, Chucha, that he needs to go. Like, now. Chucha know what's up. She nods.
    • Papi makes a mad dash for the bedroom. Yoyo spots him on the way, and he makes a signal for her to keep quiet.
    • Carlos lets himself into the walk-in closet in the bedroom. And it has a freaking secret room behind the back wall. How cool is that? What is this, a James Bond movie?
    • At first, Yoyo thinks her Papi is playing a game. But then these super scary men ring the doorbell. Everything about them screams: Danger. Danger.
    • Yoyo knows guns are illegal, 'cause once when she accidentally told the neighbor Papi had a gun, Mami had to smuggle the gun out of the house under her raincoat. Mami calls that the time Yoyo "almost got [her] father killed" (3.1.12).
    • The scary dudes take out a gun and pass it around for the kids to play with. You know, like a fun conversation piece.
    • The especially creepy man tries get little Fifi to sit on his lap. Uh, no thanks.
    • Thank goodness Mami is home.
    • Laura tells her servant Chino to have Doña Carmen call Tío Vic and tell him to come get his tennis shoes. Which turns out to be a secret code for: help.
    • Turns out Tío Vic isn't really their tío. He's with the U.S. State Department, and he's been trying to organize an uprising against Trujillo. The State Department backed out of the plan at the last minute, but Tío Vic still promised to protect all the men involved.
    • Laura busts out her "grand manner" and tries to intimidate the guards. Plus, she does a little name-dropping. Her good friend Victor Hubbard is going to stop by! You know, Victor Hubbard, with the U.S. State Department? When Victor Hubbard gets the message from Laura, he's in the middle of having sex with a teenage prostitute.
    • But when he hears he's got a phone call from the Embassy, he knows Operation Tennis Shoes is underway.
    • Tío Vic goes to Carmen and Mundo's house to meet with the guys involved in the plot.
    • Carla and Sandi are there, and they wonder why Tío Vic is always coming over to pick up his tennis shoes, when they never see him leave with any.
    • Tío Vic asks them and the cousins if any of them want to go to New York to see the Empire State building? The kids try to play it cool, but they are totally psyched. Tía Carmen looks a little nervous, though.
    • Laura is super relieved to finally see Vic.
    • Vic makes the guards nervous. He asks for their names.
    • Then he spins them a story about how Dr. García has just gotten a fellowship at a hospital in the U.S.
    • This is news to Laura. Suddenly, she realizes they're leaving, and she's a little bummed.
    • Ready for a little shift in perspective?
    • Pupo and Checo are the two guards. Their boss told them to go spy on Dr. García, but Checo took his orders a little too far. He makes Pupo nervous.
    • If their search pays off, Pupo knows they will get a promotion. But if it doesn't, they can get in serious trouble. It'll be back to cleaning prisons and interrogation cells for the two of them!
    • When they arrive at the house, they can tell something's up by how nervous everyone is acting. The lady of the house is name-dropping like Oprah. She must be bluffing. She doesn't really know that red-headed American guy at the Embassy.
    • But then the red-headed American guy from the Embassy shows up. Oops.
    • The American guy knows their supervisor, and gives him a call. Pupo and Checo are in deep doo-doo.
    • The American tells their supervisor he'll have the doctor out of the country in 48 hours.
    • Okay, back to the family's perspective. The guards leave, and Mami tells the girls to pack. They're going to the U.S.
    • Carlos has been thinking about his childhood and obsessing about the failed plot to overthrow Trujillo. He's pretty relieved to finally be let out of this stifling closet.

    Part II

    • Fifi, the youngest sister, is narrating in the first person. She doesn't remember very much about their last day on the Island. But she does remember Chucha.
    • Chucha was their cook, and she'd been with the family for a very long time.
    • Since Chucha was Haitian, she spoke French, and had difficulty pronouncing some Spanish words. Like the word for "parsley."
    • Why is this important? To answer that, we bring you this installment of our Very Shmoopy Introduction to Dominican History, Part III.
    • In 1937, General Trujillo ordered that all black people of Haitian descent get out of his side of the Island, or he would have them killed. Even if they were actually Dominican citizens.
    • Trujillo's soldiers would ask anyone they suspected of being Haitian, based on their dark skin or their French accents, to say the word "parsley": perejil. If they couldn't pronounce the Spanish j, Trujillo's soldiers killed them.
    • Over the course of five days, Trujillo's soldiers killed tens of thousands of ethnic Haitians living on the Dominican side of the island.
    • This horrible genocide is known as el Corte, "the cutting," in the Dominican Republic. In English it's referred to as the Parsley Massacre.
    • Thus concludes this sad installment of our Very Shmoopy Introduction to Dominican History.
    • On the night of the Parsley Massacre, Chucha showed up on the de la Torre doorstep and begged for help. Papito took her in, and she'd been with the family ever since.
    • On their last day on the Island, while the sisters were packing to leave, Chucha came into their room and unwrapped a strange, wooden statue. The statue had grooves along its face, and when Chucha placed a bowl of water on its head, it looked like it was crying.
    • Chucha cried, too, and prayed over the heads of the four girls. She told the girls they are leaving their homeland and never coming back, just like she did when she was a girl.
    • Time for a page break and a shift in perspective. Now we're inside Chucha's head. She's just said goodbye to the de la Torre family.
    • She's worried that Laura and the girls are going to live in a nation of zombies.
    • Now that the family is gone, all she can hear are the sounds of Voodoo spirits.
    • The spirits tell Chucha the future. They tell her how the house will fall apart and be raided by Dominican guardías.
    • Chucha goes to her room and lights candles for the family. Then she settles down for a nice long rest in her coffin. Yes. Her coffin.
    • Before she falls asleep, she tries to prepare herself for death by closing the lid to the coffin for a few minutes.
  • Part 3, Chapter 2

    The Human Body (Yoyo)

    • Back in the day, Yoyo and her sisters lived right next door to all their cousins, and they each had a BFFC. That's a "best friend forever cousin."
    • Carla, Sandi and Fifi all had girl BFFCs. But Yoyo had more fun hanging out with her boy cousin, Mundín.
    • Yoyo and Mundín got in trouble all the time. They broke things, used stuff without permission, and sort of accidentally tied up their little sisters and then forgot about them. Oops.
    • There's all sorts of political stuff going on: Papito has been appointed as ambassador to the United Nations, but every time he comes home, his house is crawling with guardias. It's very creepy for Papito and Mamita.
    • But the kids don't pay attention to all that political stuff. They're more interested in the cool toys Mamita brings them from New York.
    • The best one that Yoyo got was an American cowgirl outfit. It was just like Mundín's! Well, except for the skirt, of course.
    • On the latest trip to NYC, Mamita took her daughter Mimí along. Mimí was known as "the genius of the family." You know, because she actually liked to read books and stuff.
    • Mimí had even gone to an American college for two years, before her parents pulled her out. Too much education spoils a girl for marriage, you know.
    • It's cool with Yoyo that Mimí is single. In fact, Yoyo intends to be single her whole life. Marriage? Yuck.
    • Unfortunately, Mimi seems to have influenced Mamita's purchasing decisions on this last trip, because Mamita comes back with suitcases full of school supplies. Bo-ring!
    • Yoyo gets a stupid book. But Mundín gets a cool model of the human body. It's a see-through doll with little plastic organs.
    • Yoyo and Mundín put The Human Body together. Then Mundín gets bored. Why'd they get him a stupid doll?
    • Hey, this doll isn't so bad, Yoyo thinks. At least it's a boy doll, with guts. That's pretty neat.
    • But why doesn't this boy doll have something to pee out of? Nope, no "pee-er" whatsoever. That seems like a pretty important part of the male body. Shouldn't somebody have noticed this? (3.2.14)
    • Fortunately, Mamita snuck in some silly presents, too: some totally mind-numbing, non-intellectual presents. Yessss.
    • Yoyo gets a paddle with a rubber ball attached with a string. And Mundín gets a big ol' packet of pink modeling clay. Super cool.
    • Yoyo begs Mundín to trade her something for the clay. She wants it so bad. But Mundín thinks her presents are all too girly.
    • To punish him, Yoyo pretends to be interested in her book... which turns out to actually be interesting.
    • Fine! Mundín says. He'll trade. Yoyo generously says she'll give him whatever he wants.
    • Mundín gets a mischievous look on his face, and says he wants Yoyo to show him she's a girl.
    • Where can they get some privacy for this big reveal? There's a coal shed on the back of the property. The kids aren't supposed to play there, but they'll risk it.
    • Fifi tags along when they go to the coal shed. Yoyo feels a little weird about this, but she really wants the clay. So she drops her underwear. (And Fifi does, too.)
    • Mundín is unimpressed. He says they look like dolls, and gives each of them half the clay. Yoyo thinks this is unfair, because Fifi wasn't part of the deal.
    • Mundín promises to give Yoyo the Human Body doll if she'll keep quiet, and then runs because he thinks he hears his mom coming.
    • Tía Carmen and the gardener bust into the coal shed and catch Yoyo and Fifi. Just then, Mundín comes back with the Human Body doll. Bad timing, kid. The Human Body falls to the floor, and Tía Carmen walks on the pieces.
    • To get out of trouble, Yoyo comes up with a quick lie—they were hiding from the guardia!
    • Tía Carmen freaks out and sends all the kids home. They don't have time to find all the pieces to the Human Body right now—the guardia are here. It's an emergency!
    • Later, when they gather up all the little plastic organs they can find, most of the pieces have been chewed on by dogs or squashed under someone's shoe. There's no putting this model together again.
  • Part 3, Chapter 3

    Still Lives (Sandi)

    • Doña Charito and her husband Don José are both artists. They met at the Prado, in Spain. Don José married Doña Charito and brought his German wife back to the Island to live in a storybook cottage that everyone calls the Hansel and Gretel house.
    • Sandi gets all the cousins roped into weekly art lessons with Doña Charito. Here's how it happened:
    • After the kids got a bunch of crayons as a present, the adults discovered one of the children had some mad drawing skillz.
    • Turns out it was Sandi. Her drawings are so realistic, they seem to have magical powers. She draws a picture of the maid's son, and he gets sick. She destroys the picture, and he gets better.
    • She's forced to erase some very artistic cats that she drew on the walls of the house, and the pantry is overrun with mice.
    • So the parents decide to get this kid some art lessons with the famous Doña Charito. And they might as well send all the girl cousins, while they're at it.
    • Doña Charito agrees to do this, because her husband hasn't been earning any money. He's supposed to be working on some statues for the National Cathedral, but no one's heard from him.
    • When Sandi and the cousins arrive at the Hansel and Gretel house, Doña Charito makes them wait around forever. When the lesson finally starts, she gives them the most boring lecture ever given since the dawn of time, about how to hold the paintbrush.
    • Sandi can't take it anymore. Her creative energy cannot be restrained! She must draw a cat!
    • Doña Charito catches Sandi disobeying her orders to sit still until she dies of boredom. Sandi gets kicked out of class.
    • So she goes exploring.
    • In the back yard, Sandi finds a curious shed. From the shed, Sandi can hear a man shouting and cursing. Plus, she can hear an intriguing "tap-tap-tapping" sound.
    • Sandi climbs on a stump and looks in the window. Inside, she sees a whole bunch of half-formed sculptures.
    • The one in the middle of the floor looks like an unfinished Virgin Mary. She doesn't have a face yet.
    • And then Sandi sees the sculptor. He's wearing a leather halter, and nothing else. And he has a really big erection.
    • He gets on top of the Virgin and holds his chisel over her blank face, getting ready to "come down on her" (5.3.44). Yes, that is supposed to sound dirty.
    • Sandi gets scared for the Virgin and cries, Look out! He's about to chisel your face! Or something like that.
    • The crazy naked artist dude lunges for Sandi! She freaks, leaps off the stump, and falls on the ground. Crack! That was her arm.
    • The crazy sculptor leers at her from the window. He must be Don José.
    • Sandi screams and the whole art class comes running. She never thought she'd be so happy to see Doña Charito!
    • Sandi has to go to the hospital to get a cast. Her arm heals poorly and has to be re-broken.
    • All in all, she has to wear a cast for about a year. When it comes off, Sandi has lost her mystical drawing powers.
    • One more thing: that Christmas Eve, the whole family goes to the National Cathedral for the nativity pageant. The new creche is finally here! (About time, Don José.)
    • When Sandi finally gets a glimpse of the Virgin Mary, she does a double take—the statue has her face.
  • Part 3, Chapter 4

    An American Surprise (Carla)

    • Papi is finally home from his business trip to the United States. And he brought presents.
    • But the girls have to wait until after dinner to open them. Aw, man...
    • So Carla hangs out with Gladys, the pantry maid. Gladys is super cool. She has a nice singing voice, and she lets Carla hang out in the maids' room.
    • Gladys prays every night to an American Virgin to give her the opportunity to go to New York.
    • Nivea, another maid, interrupts to tell Gladys about all the amazing presents Don Carlos has brought his daughters back from New York over the years. Lucky ducks.
    • Nivea grumbles. They work night and day, and do they get any surprises from New York City? (She has a point here.)
    • Finally. Dinner. Spaghetti and meatballs.
    • Papi asks Gladys, to go get his briefcase from the study.
    • Mami gets a bottle of perfume. She never did find the old empty bottle...
    • And the girls each get a weird-looking iron statue. What are these things? They look like an old man in a fishing boat, a little girl with a jump rope, and a little girl in a nightgown.
    • Each little statue is actually a bank. You put a coin in, and the little statues move. The little girl takes a skip over the jump rope. The old sailor turns a wheel, and the penny is swallowed by a whale. And the little girl in her pjs (who has a halo, come to think of it) rises up into the clouds.
    • Gladys is amazed by the bank, and Papi lets her give it a try. She seems to think it's holy.
    • The girls take the banks to school, where the nuns let the kids put pennies into them as an offering. Carla is suddenly super popular.
    • Gladys puts all of her pennies into the Virgin Mary bank. It's her favorite.
    • Soon the girls get bored with the banks. Onto the shelves they go. Christmas is just around the corner, after all. They're going to get a ton of new toys.
    • Everyone's getting into the Christmas preparations.
    • On Christmas morning, Carla gets the baby doll she wanted so much. And a whole pile of other presents, besides.
    • Each servant gets a gift, too: a wallet with money inside.
    • That night, Carla can't sleep. Gladys stops by for a chat around midnight. She tells Carla that the party next door is getting insane. We're talking uncles dancing on tables and aunts throwing themselves into the swimming pool with all their clothes on. Sounds like a good time to us.
    • Then Gladys does something kind of daring: she takes the ten pesos out of the new wallet Mr. García gave her, and offers to buy Carla's Virgin Mary bank.
    • Carla knows the bank isn't worth ten pesos. It's all rusty. She says no.
    • Carla is confused about how to be good in this situation. She knows she's not supposed to give away presents that were given to her, but she also knows how happy the bank would make Gladys.
    • So she gives it to her for free.
    • Carla figures she'll get in trouble for this, so she asks Gladys not to tell.
    • But guess what? Mami notices. Where's your Mary bank, Carla?
    • Carla has to pretend to look for it. Mami definitely knows something is up.
    • Later on, when the maids are at Mass, Mami searches their rooms. Afterwards, Carla hears Mami and Papi conferring in the study.
    • Mami and Papi interview each of the maids, one by one. Gladys goes last, and it does not end well.
    • Gladys runs out of the study in tears.
    • Carla figures she might as well confess. She walks into the study and sees the mechanical bank on the desk. "It was a present! I gave it to her!" she says.
    • Carla begs her father not to send Gladys away, but it looks like she's still fired. Papi says they "can't trust her."
    • And anyway, she's the one who wanted to leave. Maybe now she can finally go to New York.
    • This doesn't seem right. Carla is not convinced.
    • Papi tries to cheer Carla up by giving her a penny for the bank.
    • Carla's not really in the mood, but maybe it'll cheer her father up. He looks sad.
    • So she gives it a try, but the lever on the bank jams. The little figure of the Virgin gets stuck, halfway up and halfway down.
  • Part 3, Chapter 5

    The Drum (Yoyo)

    • This story starts us out with yet another exciting toy brought back from New York. This time it's a bright, shiny drum. Mami makes Yoyo say 'thank you' like a million times to Mamita (Yoyo's grandma).
    • But Mami doesn't seem like she's very grateful for the present. It's so loud.
    • Mamita got the drum at a "magic store" called F.A.O. Schwarz. And if Yoyo is very, very good, someday Mamita will take her there.
    • Yoyo's connection to this drum is, like, spiritual, man. She was born to drum.
    • Yoyo drums in the yard every day for several weeks. And then—horror of horrors!—she loses a drumstick. And then crazy Aunt Isa sits on the other drumstick and breaks it.
    • So now Yoyo has a drum and no drumsticks. What's a budding musician to do?
    • Yoyo keeps carrying the drum around, strapped to her chest.
    • At the back of Yoyo's huge yard is a coal shed. A haunted coal shed.
    • Pila the laundry maid is the one who told the kids about the shed being haunted.
    • Pila's pretty odd looking. She only has one eye. And her skin is dark brown with splotches of pinkish white all up and down her legs. She's half Haitian.
    • The light-skinned Dominican maids are afraid of Pila because she's Haitian, and must practice voodoo.
    • When Pila came to the house, she brought all sorts of stories about devils and spirits. And she said they all lived in the coal shed.
    • Pila only lasted a couple of months, and then she ran away, taking some of the linens and clothes with her.
    • Mami says that Pila "won't get far with that skin." And sure enough, the police catch her the next day. But Mami says to let her go.
    • By the time Yoyo is hanging out with drum and no drumsticks, Pila has been gone for several weeks. But thanks to her, the shed is haunted.
    • Yoyo goes to the coal shed with her drum, looking for trouble.
    • And in the very last barrel, at the very back of the shed, what does Yoyo find? A litter of kittens. Squee!
    • The black kittens are really hard to see in the dark, black coal bin. But there's one that has four little white paws and a little white spot on her head. That's my kitten, Yoyo decides.
    • But is she allowed to touch a baby kitten? Or will the mama cat abandon them? Worse yet, will the mama cat try to scratch Yoyo's eyes out?
    • Who can she ask for advice on this matter? Someone who knows about kittens? And won't spill the beans?
    • While Yoyo is contemplating this, a strange man and his dog cross the yard.
    • The man isn't just handsome—he's "dashing." He's carrying a gun. But Yoyo can tell he's trustworthy.
    • The man even gets why the stupid sticks Yoyo is using as drumsticks are totally not as good as real drumsticks. See? He gets it!
    • So Yoyo asks him about the kittens. Here's the man's reasoning:
    • While a kitten is still suckling, it can't be taken from its mother. That would be a "violation of its natural right to live." In other words, it would die.
    • But in about a week, the kitten should be ready to leave its mom. A week. Seven days. Got it?
    • Okay, gotta go, says the dashing man with the gun.
    • Yoyo is going to name her kitten Schwarz. But seven days? That's sooooo far away from now.
    • A gunshot scares the momma cat out of the shed. Yoyo goes inside to tell Schwarz about their plan for next Thursday.
    • Then the man's gun goes off again, and Yoyo realizes that he's hunting! Hunting means he's probably shooting some momma birds right now! What about their "natural right to live"? What about the baby birds that are going to starve because he shot their mommies?
    • Huh. Yoyo figures she doesn't have to listen to the advice of a hypocrite.
    • Yoyo strides off across the yard with the kitten... but then she sees the mama cat. If the mama cat catches her, she'll probably claw her eyes out. Or something. Then she'll be one-eyed, like Pila.
    • She's got a plan. She'll put the kitten inside the drum, and then she'll play a loud drumroll to cover up the sound of the kitten's meowing.
    • The mama cat must suspect something, because she follows Yoyo towards the house.
    • Yoyo runs for it! She gets to the laundry room and slams the door behind her!
    • The mama cat is outside, meowing for her baby. And the baby cat is inside the drum, meowing for her mommy.
    • The gun goes off again and scares the mother cat away.
    • Yoyo takes Schwarz out of the drum. The meowing sounds "accusing" now. It makes Yoyo feel like a big jerk.
    • She wants to drown the kitten in the sink to stop her meowing.
    • But instead, she throws the kitten out the window. Thud!
    • The poor kitten wobbles across the yard all morning long. There's no sign of the mama cat.
    • Yoyo wants to go help Schwarz get back to the coal shed, but she's not allowed outside. Mami has called the police because some crazy guy with a gun is shooting on their property.
    • When the shooting finally stops, the kitten is gone.
    • That night, Yoyo wakes up from a bad dream and sees the mother cat sitting at the foot of her bed, like a ghost.
    • The next day, Yoyo's mom says that's impossible. A cat couldn't have gotten into the house.
    • But then they find an open window in the laundry room. That new laundry maid is so irresponsible, Mami thinks. (We know it wasn't the maid's fault—it was Yoyo's.)
    • But that night, and the next night, and the night after that, the cat comes back to stare at Yoyo in the dark. Is this starting to get creepy or what?
    • Mami says it's a nightmare phase. But the phase lasts for years and years.
    • Are you ready to speed things up a little? Hold on to your seats, folks:
    • Then the family moves to the U.S. The cat disappears. Mamita gets old. Yoyo goes away to school. She starts writing. She grows up.
    • And now, this is who Yoyo is. She's a curious woman who likes stories about ghosts and devils. She still has bad dreams and insomnia.
    • She still wakes up in the middle of the night and hears the meowing of the mother cat, accusing her of the violation she committed when she was small.
    • And this violation lies at the very center of her art.