Study Guide

Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida Analysis

By Victor Martinez

  • Tone

    Intimate and Distanced

    Growing up ain't easy, and fittingly, Manny's tone as our narrator is complicated, too. Sometimes he gives us a tone that's super intimate, like he's letting us in on tons of secrets—and then we turn around, and just like that, he's taken on a distanced attitude.

    Manny's Intimate Side

    Manny likes to talk to us like we're old chums. That doesn't mean he's always super casual, but it does mean that he often gets pretty personal with his tone. So when he's feeling uncomfortable at Dorothy's party, for instance, his approach to it makes this clear from the get-go:

    I put on this big, smeary smile and urged my legs forward. My lungs felt big as balloons. There was a song by the Rolling Stones on the record player. I was nervous, but once I put my hand on the back of my neck, trying to look casual, I felt better. (9.108)

    Did you notice how up-close-and-personal Manny gets? He's not holding anything back. His attitude toward readers is intimate as can be, and this means we get to learn just how anxious he is. He gives us lots of details about how he feels and doesn't make us guess one bit.

    Manny's Distanced Stance

    Sometimes, though, Manny drops his familiar tone and makes us work for our information, like when he tells us that he won't be going to the better school across town this year. Check it out:

    Mom's plans to get me transferred didn't work out. The administration said it was too late. There were already too many kids in that school. There was an imbalance in the student body—whatever that meant. They said lots of things, but it all ended with me not transferring. (7.1)

    Manny tells us what's up, and that's that—just the facts here, no feelings. And did you notice how nonchalant he sounds? He kind of brushes the whole thing off, as if he doesn't care. Since we know Manny can take up a pretty intimate attitude and let us in on all the little details, it really stands out when he just tells us the facts with no sign of his deeper feelings.

    Which tone do you think dominates the book: Manny's intimate side or his distanced one? Are there other tones that you find in Manny's tale? Tell us everything you're thinking… or, you know, don't. Either is cool, especially where Manny's concerned.

  • Genre

    Family Drama; Autobiography; Young Adult Literature

    Parrot in the Oven has some serious drama afoot. And most of this drama revolves around family—the Hernandez bunch can be pretty crazy sometimes, and that makes family drama a major genre for this tale. Plus, when you're a teenager in a big family like Manny's and your parents fight all the time and your siblings can be the worst, well, things get personal in this family super quick.

    So we get to hear about all the ups and downs of Manny's family life, plus we get it all from his own perspective, which is pretty cool. But what makes this up-close-and-personal tale even cooler is that the author, Martinez, used his own life as inspiration for a lot of this book. And that means this tale dabbles in the autobiography genre. Of course, the story isn't an exact replica of Martinez's life, so it's more of a shout-out to autobiography than autobiography proper.

    And when you have a book about a high school kid who's going through tons of struggles, it's a good guess that it's geared toward the young adults in the world. Because Parrot in the Oven is part of the young adult genre, this tale focuses on all the struggles of growing up as a teenager. But just because it's young adult lit doesn't mean adults can't hop on Manny's bandwagon, too, so grab your grandma and start a book club already.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Sometimes, it's tough to figure out where a title comes from. And then comes along a narrator like Manny, who tells us just what's up. Thanks, Manny.

    According to Manny, the phrase "parrot in the oven" is actually a pretty common saying. So when his dad calls him "perico" (a.k.a. parrot), Manny knows that there's a story behind that nickname. Check it:

    Perico, or parrot, was what Dad called me sometimes. It was from a Mexican saying about a parrot that complains how hot it is in the shade, while all along he's sitting inside an oven. […] I didn't mind it so much, actually, because Dad didn't say it because he thought I was dumb, but because I trusted everything too much, because I'd go right into the oven trusting people all the way—brains or no brains. (4.13)

    So the idea of Manny being a parrot in the oven tells us that he's a seriously trusting guy. And it sounds like Dad thinks this is a bad quality. But since a parrot heading into an oven doesn't exactly sound like the bees knees either, this title gives us a little foreshadowing that Manny puts his trust in folks too much. Sometimes, he's going to be let down.

    As for the mi vida component of the title, mi vida means my life in Spanish. This does two things: It lets us know that the story of Manny's life is about trust, and it also gives us a heads up that this book has one foot in two different languages and cultures.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    The ending of this book is a bit of a mixed bag. We have Manny joining a gang, which doesn't really seem like him—instead of trying to support his true friends or coax his big brother into getting a job, now he just cares about fitting in. And making out with girls, of course. The whole thing has us kind of wondering if Manny has lost his sense of self instead of found it, which is a bummer of a note to end on.

    But then we get a major turnaround at the last moment: Instead of caring about being cool, Manny realizes that he shouldn't be in the gang after all. All it takes is watching one of the gang members rob and rough up a lady and Manny proves just how good he really is, to himself and us:

    In that instant of trying to call out to Eddie, everything changed. It was like I'd finally seen my own face and recognized myself; recognized who I really should be. Then I didn't feel like catching up to Eddie anymore. Instead, I wanted to grab him, and scold him about how to treat people, how to be somebody who knows how to treat people: like my sister; like that lady. (11.73)

    Basically, Manny has a huge epiphany about who he is here. And it happens pretty all of a sudden, too—one minute he feels like he should be backing Eddie up no matter what, and the next he figures out who he's truly meant to be. And while he probably still has some figuring to do ahead of him, he now knows he's definitely not someone who joins a gang. Or steals. Or beats up strangers.

    Phew, right?

  • Setting

    Central California

    This story takes place in the middle of California. But honestly, we don't hear much about California. Or the town where Manny and his family live. We know it has a couple of schools, rich-looking houses, and low-income housing projects. And that's about it.

    But there is one place that we hear a lot about: the Hernandez home. But even though Manny spends a lot of his time at home, we don't get a ton of description of this place—we probably hear more about how much Mom cleans the house and Dad complains about it being dirty than anything else. But we do know that most of the drama in the book goes down inside these walls, and that makes it an important location for our main man.

    There are really two sides to this setting. On the one hand, it's a place where we have lots of fighting, including multiple gunshot incidents. This is also where Magda gets super sick, and where Dad throws lots of fits. So yeah, the Hernandez home can be a super depressing setting.

    But on the other hand, this place is also comforting. So when Manny comes home after deciding to leave the gang and sees his sisters lying on the couch together, he has some pretty intense emotions:

    And it wasn't just them but the whole room: the squiggly TV, the lumpy cherub angels on the frame of the painting, the glass-top coffee table, my mother's animals, gleaming in the sunlight. This room was what my mother spent so much energy cleaning and keeping together, and what my father spent so much energy tearing apart. And it was wondrous, like a place I was meant to be. (11.92)

    Manny tells it like it is, and he knows that his house isn't perfect—after all, it's a place with some major tension between his parents. But he also says it's a "wondrous" place where he "was meant to be." It may be flawed, then, but it's still where Manny feels he belongs.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (3) Base Camp

    All in all, Manny tells his story in a pretty straightforward way. Sure, he uses a lot of metaphors and tackles some heavy topics like race and poverty, but he still gives us clear sentences that tell us what's what. Plus, when you're dealing with a book that includes accidental gunshots and intense boxing matches, you've definitely got yourself a page-turner. And all this adds up to a pretty easy read.

  • Writing Style

    Figurative, Descriptive, and Multilingual

    Manny is a pretty creative guy, and since he's our narrator, we're not surprised that the writing style is seriously descriptive. And since Manny is also a main character straddling two cultures, it makes sense that the writing style is multilingual. Get ready to bump into some Spanish along the way.

    Always Describe

    As our narrator, Manny knows how to get our imaginations running, so when he decides to tell us a story, we are given figurative descriptions that are both super beautiful and make us think. In fact, keep an eye out for all the similes and metaphors that he uses throughout the book. For instance, check out this passage where Manny tells us about his new job helping his brother:

    I helped him with his route on Saturdays, when the weather was either snips of cold snagging fishhooks through your clothes, or just plain icy, with steam flowing from every breath. (9.1)

    The sentence could have stopped after the first part—"I helped him with his route on Saturdays" gives us all the facts we need—but it goes on, creating a vivid picture of the cold Manny and his brother work through. In doing so, we get both a better sense of Manny as a narrator (dude's creative) and a better sense of what he's willing to do to help his brother. He doesn't work through sunshine, he works through truly biting cold.

    Take Two Languages and Mix Them Up

    Manny speaks two languages, English and Spanish, so when we hear his story we also get to hear both languages at work. Sure, the book is ninety-nine percent in English, but Manny still throws in some Spanish every now and then.

    This can be a wee bit tricky for readers who don't know Spanish, especially since Manny doesn't normally give us a dictionary-like definition, leaving us to be detectives if we don't already know the language. Here's an example of a moment when the text busts out its bilingual style:

    Not that the Chicano guys couldn't fight or anything. There were a lot of ornery vatos around, but they just hung around and smoked and ditched class and acted like the school was some kind of contaminated nuclear zone. (7.34)

    If you don't know Spanish, can you guess what the word "vatos" means? Well if not, never fear because we're here to tell you: Vatos is basically the equivalent of dudes or guys in English. More importantly, though, in speckling the text with Spanish, we are reminded that our main character and his family are navigating cross-cultural experiences, as well as everything else they have on their plates.

  • Baseball Glove

    Sometimes, Manny is a dreamer. And at the start of this book, there's one dream that's looming large in his mind: getting a shiny new baseball glove. Yep, our main man is a baseball fanatic. It's not just about the glove, though, and when Manny imagines having a brand spanking new mitt, he gets all kinds of good feelings inside. He tells us:

    I imagined already being on the baseball team at school, and people looking at me. Not these people picking chilies or those sent away in the vans, but people I had yet to know, watching me as I stood mightily in center field. (1.66)

    Manny has a vivid imagination, and when he pictures having the new glove, it comes along with being the star of the baseball team. Did you notice how Manny talks about how people will be "watching me," or how he'll be standing "mightily" on the field? Sounds to us like Manny's baseball fantasies have a lot to do with being successful and having others notice him. His dream of owning the glove, then, is symbolic of his dream of fitting in, of being a star and accepted.

    But there's even more: Manny figures that baseball will also open up new possibilities for him, and that's pretty cool. Just check out how he wants to be watched by "people I had yet to know." Manny hopes for a future that is different from the life he currently lives, and the baseball glove represents this desire.

    So the baseball glove has a lot to do with both possibilities and acceptance. Here's hoping Manny catches all of his dreams…

  • Bullets

    If you're looking for a complicated symbol, then look no further. But fear not—we're here to sort through this tangle of meaning for you. See, bullets crop up in this book a little too often for comfort, especially since they're normally pointed from one family member toward another, but as they fly around, they teach us a lot about violence, as well as the potential to do better.

    Insofar as bullets can be super dangerous—they go in guns, after all—they're representative of some of the danger lurking within Manny's family. And because they're tied to danger, bullets also represent the element of fear that stalks through Manny and his family members' lives.

    Not sure what we're talking about? During one of Dad's drinking binges he tries to shoot Mom—as he struggles with the bullets, we are reminded of the violence at play in this family, particularly as it connects to Dad and his drinking. This moment may be overly violent, but Dad's drinking is a threat that plagues the Hernandez household whether he has a gun in hand or not. Just like Dad can't quite take control over the bullets, he also can't quite take control over himself, it seems.

    Later, Manny almost shoots Pedi while inspecting Dad's gun. The firearm goes off unexpectedly as Manny's struggling with the bullets—and this struggle, and the violence that accidently explodes from it, symbolizes both how young Manny still is (unlike his dad, who's more of a done deal, if you will) and his own potential to be violent. But check out how Manny responds:

    Looking up, I remembered the bullet, which I figured got buried inside the cooler shaft. I prayed no one would ever see it. The thought of how close I'd come to killing Pedi gave my lungs a peculiar sponginess, as if apart from my body they'd been sobbing for hours. (6.103)

    Notice how accidentally shooting the bullet has a physical effect on Manny—the bullet may not kill Pedi, but it sure has a huge impact on the shooter's own body. Instead of actually hurting his sister, then, Manny has been hurt himself in this moment of realizing his own ability to cause harm. But here's where bullets take on a surprisingly positive significance: In recognizing his capacity for violence, Manny is alarmed. And since he's young yet, there's hope for him to right his course.

  • Garden Imagery

    There's garden imagery all over this book. Manny has a serious fascination with stuff that grows in the ground, so here are a handful of plant-filled moments that, er, crop up for us:

    • The green lawns in the housing projects during the spring; 
    • Nardo and Manny cleaning up Grandma's yard;
    • Dad's obsession with neat gardens;
    • Nardo and Manny picking chili peppers;
    • how Grandma's neighborhood used to be filled with awesome gardens;
    • and Dad picking mint in the housing projects.

    What other garden imagery stands out to you? Take a moment to note them.

    Okay. You ready? Onward.

    Since Manny and Nardo spend a lot of time working in gardens and fields, we know that this plant obsession has a lot to do with hard work. Whether Manny and Nardo are working in the chili fields, or they're in the sun cleaning up Grandma's front lawn, these two get down to business more than once, though we're pretty sure that Nardo is ready to quit the backbreaking work. So part of what garden represent is hard work, and different characters' relationships to doing it.

    But even with all this hard work, garden imagery is also about new growth. There's nothing to harvest or clean up, after all, if growth isn't happening in the various gardens. So when Manny picks chili in order to get himself a new baseball glove (more on this mitt elsewhere in this section), we can see a strong correlation between hard work and growth. Cool, right?

    Along the lines of new growth, gardens also represent moving on, or going forward. For example, take a look at how Manny imagines the afterlife will be for his Grandma after she's passed away:

    Her shadow will be erased, and her soul will drift to heaven like the fluff of a dandelion in the wind. And then it will blossom in another garden, so bright the colors will hurt your eyes. That's how I imagined it. For Grandma, that's how I wanted it to be. (5.68)

    When it comes to his grandma, instead of associating gardens with backbreaking work, Manny thinks of Grandma's soul as a "fluff of dandelion" that gets to bloom in a cool new garden. No longer stuck in the various hardships of her life, Manny imagines things will be light, fluffy, and bright for his Grandma as she moves onto the next.

    In short, plants might be rooted, but in this book, gardens are all about shifts.

  • Narrator Point of View

    First Person (Central)—Manny Hernandez

    Manny is the big cheese in this narrative, and he's our narrator, too. We get the whole tale from his perspective, so as long as we're reading, we're stuck inside this guy's head and we are not getting out.

    The cool thing about being inside Manny's point of view is that we get to know what he's thinking basically all the time. So when he's feeling happy about Miss Van der Meer talking to him, we're in on it, and when he's feeling nervous about Lencho's fight, we get the inside scoop on that, too.

    But there are also some drawbacks to being stuck inside the main character's mind. Since Manny isn't a mind reader, he's only inside his own head—and that means we don't get to know the other characters particularly well.

    However, while in some books first-person narration is really limiting, in this book we're in luck, because Manny is pretty great at guessing what others are thinking. Just check out the moment when Mr. Hart drops Manny off at home. There's some awkward tension between Mr. H and Dad, and thanks to Manny's perceptiveness we get the scoop on how each of these guys feels:

    You could tell Mr. Hart wanted to say something stupid, like how neat the yard was or what a fine impression our project house had on him. If he had, I think Dad would have mowed him down. (3.47)

    Importantly, no one is even really talking in this scene. Did you notice that? But all the same, Manny tells us what Mr. H "wanted to say" and how he figures his pops would react. He's not letting his first-person narration hold us back in our reading one bit.

  • Plot Analysis


    Getting to Know You

    The Hernandez family is large and they've got drama to spare. From the moment we meet Manny, we learn that he has siblings with some serious attitudes, a dad who'd rather get drunk than go to work, and a mom who's just trying to keep her wits about her. Plus, Manny himself is trying to figure out what school he'll go to and how to become the star of the baseball team. All in all, the set-up for this book has us realizing that Manny and his family are going to have some big adventures ahead.

    Rising Action

    Where Do I Belong?

    Manny has a tough time finding his place in the world. When he's with his family, there's so much drama it's not even funny. Seriously: His dad tries to shoot his mom, and Manny almost shoots his little sister—nothing funny about this family drama. And at school, Manny just wants to find a group that will accept him, whether it's the boxing team or a girl at a party. Since Manny goes through so many struggles with his family and social life, we know that things are definitely ramping up in his tale. He's looking everywhere, but doesn't quite fit.


    Being Nice is the Best

    This book's climax comes super late in the game—as in, the very last chapter. We spend a lot of time watching Manny try to find ways to fit in and be accepted, and then all of a sudden, he has a major turning point when he realizes that he cares way more about being a good guy than being part of a gang. Phew, right? And you don't even have to take our word for this being the climax to Manny's story: He straight up tells us it's a turning point for him. And that, Shmoopers, is exactly what the climax of a book is.

    Falling Action

    Fear No More

    This book wraps up pretty fast after the climax, so we have a super short falling action. Basically, after Manny realizes he doesn't want to be part of a gang, some good karma heads his way. Specifically, the cops don't realize he was at all connected to the robbery, so our main man stays out of trouble. And then when he walks by some bullies in his neighborhood, Manny doesn't even feel afraid. Looks like Manny's turning point means that he's feeling self-assured as this tale reaches its end.


    Home is Where the Gang-Free Heart Is

    When Manny makes it back home, he's happy as a clam. And even though his house hasn't always been the cheeriest place ever, now it's the only place Manny wants to be. Since Manny tells us that his home feels like a place "I had come back to after a long journey of being away" (11.92), we know that he feels like he's come full circle. Sure, he's had lots of adventures and learned a lot, but now that he's home, he's where he belongs. And with this, his story is done.

  • Allusions

    Literary and Philosophical References

    Pop Culture References

    • Elvis Presley (6.2)
    • Smokey Robinson (6.2)
    • John Wayne (6.60, 6.65)
    • Cary Grant (11.3)