Study Guide

Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida Themes

By Victor Martinez

  • Family

    When you have a strong-willed mom, a dad with a drinking problem, and a handful of feisty siblings, you've got yourself a recipe for some family drama. And for the Hernandez family in Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida, that's just what they're in for.

    Most of the time, Manny and his family members are butting heads; they just can't seem to get along. Sometimes it's one of them almost shooting the other (which happens not once, but twice, folks), and other times it's just little tiffs about clothes or going to work. In other words, the tender moments sure can be hard to come by for this family. Bummer.

    Questions About Family

    1. What makes a family strong in this book? And what makes a family weak? How would you characterize the Hernandez family?
    2. How are sibling relationships different than parent-child ones? Is one kind of relationship better or worse in this story?
    3. What are the positive effects of having a family? And what are the downsides? Is family overall a good or a bad thing in Parrot it the Oven?
    4. What is Grandma's role in Manny's family? How does she impact relations amongst everyone else in the family?

    Chew on This

    Family is the worst. In Parrot in the Oven, all Manny's family does is cause trouble, so it has an entirely negative impact on his life.

    Family is rough, but still worth it. In Parrot in the Oven, Manny's family has its fair share of problems but they still have a positive impact on Manny in the long run.

  • Race

    Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida dishes out a sad truth: Racial stereotypes are alive and well—and most of the time, these stereotypes are super mean and hurtful. Manny's family is Mexican and he grows up in a California town where people from a variety of races live. We wish we could say that everyone coexists peacefully, holding hands under a rainbow and singing all day long, but that's simply not the case. Instead, we see negative assumptions about race cropping up in this book, adding to the heap of things Manny has to navigate and sort through as he grows up.

    Questions About Race

    1. What assumptions do characters make based on race? Are there any characters that avoid making assumptions or believing stereotypes altogether? If yes, who? And if not, what does this tell us?
    2. How does race impact each character's sense of self? And how does it impact how the characters interact with each other?
    3. What is this book's take on diversity? How do folks interact with people from a race different than their own?

    Chew on This

    For Manny, race is central and when it comes to figuring out his identity, Manny knows that both his real cultural heritage and the nasty stereotypes others believe in both have a huge impact on him.

    Manny's race doesn't really matter. Sure, he might encounter stereotypes about Mexicans all the time, but they don't impact his sense of self one bit.

  • Education

    School isn't really the center of Manny's world in Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida; instead, it's kind of a nuisance. So that means he spends a lot of his school time thinking about things like hot teachers and baseball teams. At the same time, though, getting an education means a lot to Manny, and especially to his mom—she knows that getting a good education could make a huge difference in her son's life.

    Sure, it's not easy to find teachers who really care about their students in this town, and it's no cakewalk to get Manny revved up for school. But in the long run, this kid gets on Team Mom and figures that getting a good education might just be the way to go. Pro tip: It certainly won't hurt.

    Questions About Education

    1. How do the different characters value education? Are there characters that think it's the most important thing ever? How so? Are there any characters that think it's not worth all the effort? Why not?
    2. What is school like in this book? How does it help or hinder learning?
    3. How does Manny grow because of his experiences in school? Does school ever hold him back?
    4. Does education happen only in school? Where else does learning happen in this book, and how? Where does Manny learn the most?

    Chew on This

    School stinks, and since Manny doesn't really learn anything in school, it's a total waste of time.

    School is a place where Manny learns tons of valuable life lessons, and this makes the whole experience worth it.

  • Fear

    There's tons of stuff to be afraid of in this book: dads with guns, punch-throwing bullies, enormous boxing opponents, talking to girls… the list goes on. Sometimes, it seems like Manny experiences fear at every turn—we'd even go so far as to say that he can be quite the scaredy cat.

    He gives us a sneak peak into his deepest darkest feelings in Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida, and dude's seriously a bundle of nerves. On the flip side, though, he also pushes through his fear on more than one occasion. His fear, then, also shows us how tough he's capable of being.

    Questions About Fear

    1. What are the characters afraid of in this book? And how do they express their fears?
    2. Does being fearful ever impact the characters' attitudes and actions? Do they change their approach to school or work because of being afraid? How so?
    3. How do the characters go from shaking in their boots to being super brave? What makes this transformation possible?
    4. Are there any characters that stay afraid the whole story? How so? Or are there any characters that are never afraid?

    Chew on This

    In Parrot in the Oven, most of the time fear provides a good kick in the butt, so it's ultimately a good thing.

    In Parrot in the Oven, most of the time fear makes characters stay put instead of moving forward; it's a major barrier to success.

  • Poverty

    For the Hernandez family in Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida, poverty doesn't mean not having a home, nor does it mean completely going without food. But don't start thinking that struggling with poverty is a cakewalk for them either. Because they don't have much money, these folks need to be extra resourceful, wearing hand-me-downs and getting creative to make ends meet. Dealing with poverty can be seriously tough on family relationships in this book, especially when it comes to who rolls up their sleeves and works… and who doesn't.

    Questions About Poverty

    1. What does poverty look like in this book? Are there certain features that define being poor? What are they?
    2. How does each character react to his or her experience of poverty? What are the similarities among the characters' reactions? How about the differences? Does poverty affect any characters' sense of self?
    3. What are the downsides to being poor in this book? Are there positive elements, too? How so?

    Chew on This

    Manny has to face his family's poverty in oodles of different ways, and sometimes it keeps this guy from moving forward.

    Manny's family might not be rich, but this doesn't impact his ability to move forward in life one bit.

  • Perseverance

    We can split the characters in Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida into two categories: the hard workers and the slackers. On the hard working side, we've got folks like Manny, Mom, and Magda, who might not all like their jobs, but persist in their work anyway. And then there are the lazier characters like Dad and Nardo, who'd rather sit on their bums all day, and whose slacking puts some serious pressure on the rest of the family at times.

    On the plus side, even Dad and Nardo have moments when they figure out how to persevere. And sometimes this means a major transformation from Slacker Extraordinaire to Employee of the Year.

    Questions About Perseverance

    1. What types of hard work do we see in this book? And what makes these tasks so difficult? Are there certain types of work that are super easy?
    2. How is hard work rewarded in Parrot in the Oven? And how is it punished? All in all, is perseverance worth all the time and effort?
    3. How does perseverance impact family relations?
    4. Which characters really value hard work? Are there certain characters that don't ever try very hard?

    Chew on This

    Hard work pays off—Manny perseveres through tons of different circumstances, and in the end he comes out on top.

    Hard work is the pits—no matter how hard Manny tries, there are some things he just can't change, which means perseverance doesn't pay off in the end.

  • Violence

    Did you flinch when Dad is hunting for Mom with his rifle? Was your stomach in knots when the neighbors bullied Manny? Did you cringe when the shot went off in Pedi's direction? Yep, Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida is chockfull of violent scenes. Whether Manny is at home, in school, or out on the town, there's almost always some bully or rifle that might pop up and cause serious damage. Plus, Manny himself can be violent, too, even if it's not totally on purpose. Consider yourselves warned: This book punches readers in the gut sometimes.

    Questions About Violence

    1. What types of violence do we encounter in Parrot in the Oven? How are the violent moments physically destructive? Are there also forms of violence that are mentally or emotionally devastating? How so?
    2. Who are the most violent characters in the book? What about the least violent ones? And what causes the difference between the two?
    3. What are the negative effects of violence? Are there any positive side effects to all the abuse?

    Chew on This

    In Parrot in the Oven, violence is always super destructive, so it's never a good thing. Never ever.

    In Parrot in the Oven, sometimes violence can actually be (kind of) a good thing because it can inspire people to do better.

  • Community

    Community can be hard to come by in Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida, and this is a pretty tough fact for Manny to face. He has a bunch of siblings but no real sense of belonging, so he's looking for a place to fit in—and it isn't always easy to find. Other characters also have tough times finding community, like Mom and Dad who are wary of all the gossip around town, but Manny's the one who really quests for a place to belong throughout the book. Surprisingly, as the book ends, we think he's finally found the community he needs most: himself. Go figure.

    Questions About Community

    1. What makes community strong in this book? Are there elements of community that can make it weak, too? How so?
    2. Who gets to be part of a community? And what makes other folks into outcasts? Is it ever possible for an outcast to be accepted back into the community in this book?
    3. How does community positively impact the characters? And what are the negative effects? Overall, does living in a community do more good or harm for Manny's family?

    Chew on This

    Feeling accepted is key, and in this book, it's most important to every character that they feel accepted as part of a community.

    Privacy takes the cake, and in this book, community is great and all, but not at the expense of personal space.