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Awesome books about them? Yes.
Memorable Names? You betcha.
Tragedy galore? Abso-freaking-lutely.
But there's one more tidbit they have in common: They all have dysfunctional families. Just like Manny Hernandez in Parrot in the Oven, whose family takes crazy to a whole new level.
Here's the deal: Manny and his family live in Central California, and at first it seems like they lead pretty ordinary lives. They hate their neighbors, school can be a drag, and the Hernandezes definitely have their financial struggles—all in all, pretty run-of-the-mill stuff, right? Not so fast.
As it turns out, there's always drama stirring up in the Hernandez house. Sometimes its because Manny's dad would rather drink and play pool than get a job, sometimes it's because Mom is worried about how they'll pay for food and clothes. And then, of course, there's the time Manny's sis, Magda, accidentally gets knocked up, as well as the fact that Manny's parents can hardly stop fighting for a single second.
Things get pretty heated when the guns start flying. We're not going to give all the drama away up front, but there are two seriously terrifying events when members of the family almost shoot each other. Yep, things get that crazy.
And through it all Manny is just a teenager, doing his best to grow up and fit in, with the added struggle of being a Mexican-American kid in a town where there's a lot of racial segregation. So we've got loads of family drama, plus the ups and downs of being a teenager, and some struggles with racial stereotypes all rolled into one. Good times.
With all this happening, it's no wonder that readers went wild when Victor Martinez published Parrot in the Oven in 1996. And the fact that the book is semi-autobiographical is just icing on the cake. Even though Manny isn't a replica of Martinez, the author did base the book at least partially on his own life, which adds an interesting layer to the story.
But you don't need to take our word for it. Parrot in the Oven won a National Book Award for Young People's Literature. So yeah, it's a seriously big deal.
One of the toughest feats during the teen years is finding a way to fit in. Don't get us wrong, it's awesome to stand out in a crowd and be unique, and we're all for a healthy dose of independence. But it's also pretty great to have a group of friends who you really click with. And when it comes to Manny Hernandez, well, that group just isn't easy to find.
See, Manny's social life has some definite highs and lows—when he goes searching for a niche to call his own, it's no easy feat. He tries a boxing team (which kind of works), and a gang (which definitely doesn't work), and even ends up at a party where he feels like a total outcast. Ugh, right? We've all been there…
But it's not just with his peers that Manny struggle to find his place—he has a hard time finding his place within his family, too, which makes his life that much harder. Yep, when it comes to finding community, our guy Manny has a super rough ride ahead.
But the good news is that, in the end, Manny learns a lot about what it means to really feel like you belong somewhere. Plus maybe—just maybe—he actually finds that community he's looking for. And since everyone struggles to fit in somewhere, at some point, we pretty much dare you not to have your heartstrings tugged on at least a wee bit as you read.
Parrot at a Glance
Check out this short intro the book and gear up for an exciting page-turner ahead.
Need a Hand?
If Spanish isn't exactly your thing, this website's here to help you make all the translations you need.
From Welder to Writer
Believe it or not, Martinez held tons of different jobs. This article gives us some insight into how he volleyed between welding and writing (true story).
Getting to Know Mr. Martinez
Martinez led a super interesting life. Check out this article remembering the author and get the scoop on how and why he got up at 4:00AM. We're tired just thinking about it.
Notes from a Pal
Martinez had some awesome friends, and one wrote some thoughts on what a great guy Martinez was, including bits about their adventures since their days at Stanford together.
Author and Book Become One
Take a look at this pic of Martinez and the cover of Parrot in the Oven. Go team.
Here's a second cover, this time with a darker feeling to it.