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The Last of the Menu Girls

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Rocío Esquibel is a girl growing up in a Southern New Mexico town with her mother and sister. She defines her neighborhood by its trees—the willow, the apricot and the one they call the marking-off tree. Rocio knows she was born in the closet where she and her sister now take turns looking at the picture of Jesus whose eyes light up in the dark. But at night she enters a magical realm, and in her imaginary Blue Room, she can fly. At first she is a mesmerized observer of the lives of older girls and their boyfriends, but as she finds a job at the local hospital, and discovers a passion for drama and stories, Rocio begins to make her own choices in love and work.

Alive with the taste of tamales and the lyrical tang of the Esquibels’ talk, The Last of the Menu Girls becomes a rich celebration of Chicano culture, and a universal story of finding one’s way in the world.

240 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1986

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About the author

Denise Chávez

15 books59 followers
Denise Elia Chavez (born August 15, 1948) is an American author, playwright, and stage director. She was born to an Hispano family in Las Cruces, New Mexico, United States, and graduated from Madonna High School in Mesilla. She received her Bachelor's from New Mexico State University and Master's degrees in Dramatic Arts from Trinity University. While in college, she began writing dramatic works. Upon graduation, she worked at the Dallas Theater Center while continuing her studies in drama and writing. She then entered the MFA program at the University of New Mexico (UNM) and earned a degree in writing. In 1986, she published her first collection of short stories, called The Last of the Menu Girls. She received several awards, including the American Book Award, the Premio Aztlán Literary Prize, the Mesilla Valley Author of the Year Award, and the 2003 Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature. Chavez was offered a professorship in creative writing at UNM, during which time she wrote the novel Loving Pedro Infante, which earned her critical acclaim. She left the University, however, to work at a rape crisis center. She is the founder of the Border Book Festival that is held every year in Las Cruces, New Mexico. She also serves as Executive Director of the Cultural Center de Mesilla, and manages its book, music and arts store.

(from Wikipedia)

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5 stars
31 (15%)
4 stars
51 (24%)
3 stars
79 (38%)
2 stars
31 (15%)
1 star
13 (6%)
Displaying 1 - 19 of 19 reviews
Profile Image for Angela.
Author 16 books115 followers
January 24, 2011
A beautifully written though tedious book about a young woman's coming of age in Texas and New Mexico. I admire the writing and wish I had the talent to emulate Chavez's words. The book was tedious because it had no plot. That is the only complaint I seem to have nowadays with literary writing. Some of it is good, with a steady handle on story, but some of it lacks the glue that would otherwise make it memorable.
Profile Image for Lea.
670 reviews13 followers
July 27, 2012
I found this book in the 1 dollar shelf of Powell's. It is either comprised of a series of short stories or of a series of rather disconnected chapters surrounding the main character Rocio. At times it is brilliant and well crafted narrative and at others it is almost schizophrenic stream of consciousness. Sometimes it's both at once: "I have decided to buy the gift package of 'Evening in Paris Cologne and Bath Water' for my Mother. "I'll take this please," my voice falters. I don't remember how to speak, I am afraid, my clothes are all wrong. Can't you cover me up? Shape my doubts, pluck the nervousness away, mask the fear and seal the lips with hope for self. Dynamite Red of course." (70).
I liked/understood the first chapters better than the last few-- they got more confusing as I went along, and didn't seem to follow a chronological time-line... perhaps there was some great meaning for that, but I didn't get it... Also they were a bit depressing.
Profile Image for Ellie.
1,456 reviews367 followers
June 14, 2015
I chose to read The Last of the Menu Girls by Denise Chávez because of my obsession with New Mexico but I finished it because of the beauty of the language. The book is a collection of related stories about Rocio Esquibel, a young girl who, in the course of these stories, becomes a young woman and a writer. Her subject: the small town in southern New Mexico she grew up in. And even more than the town, the street she lived on.

The stories are full of people vividly depicted. But the best thing of all, the biggest treat, is the poetry of the language. Southwest, Spanish, American, poetry.

A book that will continue to haunt me. In a lovely way.
Profile Image for Melanee.
83 reviews3 followers
August 30, 2008
This is a very challenging book to read. It is amazing though. It is very culturally significant, which I love. I was able to study this book and BYU and loved getting a chance to read and analyze it. There is a lot to this book, very deep.
124 reviews
October 29, 2009
Liz wrote her thesis on this book so I was intrigued (plus it takes place in the Southwest). I liked some of the stories more than others. It has a poetic feel to it, which is nice at times, but I couldn't help but feel that it was trying too hard to be deep and coming short.
Profile Image for E.d..
135 reviews1 follower
September 12, 2021
I wish I could give it half stars. I really had high hopes for this book. I enjoyed her later novels. The author deserves extra stars for her spot on perfect dialogue. She has an excellent ear for the way post WWII Chicanos talked. I could have been listening to real life conversations. The author also deserves praise for what must have been a groundbreaking work of Chicano literature. She writes about the kind of people we never see in the movies or on TV. Literature remains the only place to find these kinds of Mexican-American characters. But her writing is disjointed and I had trouble figuring out who was speaking. I've read better examples of connected short stories by other authors who cover the same subject.
June 30, 2021
I thought I would enjoy this more, considering how much I loved her novel Loving Pedro Infante and enjoyed her memoir. However, this short story collection was lot more difficult to get through. There are some magical moments throughout, especially in the shorter pieces, but overall this left me a little bored. I think I would return to some of the shorter stand-outs, but probably not return to this collection as a whole.
Profile Image for Alandrah.
45 reviews
February 13, 2023
I enjoyed the colorful imagery and the deep descriptions of intangible things, like emotions and relationships. I’m coming to realize that the novels comprised of short stories aren’t my favorites; I just always feel that just as I become invested in one the short story ends and another begins.

Overall I did like it. Especially as a New Mexican, I appreciated the integration of our setting and cultures into the fabric of the story.
23 reviews1 follower
February 23, 2020
Like what did I just read? I get the idea of just a glimpse into someone’s life, but it was so badly executed. I felt like the author was trying so hard to be poetic that it left the reader completely annoyed. I felt like the author was on drugs, but not in an artistic way. In a really bad way! I love reading, and reading the book made me dread opening my book.
88 reviews
June 9, 2021
At times the writing is pretty, but most of the stories are actually boring, they don't draw you in. The House on Mango Street did a much better job with a story in vignettes. I had wanted to revisit this book, which I'd read when it first came out, but it's meh.
Profile Image for Kkraemer.
731 reviews20 followers
August 14, 2014
This is a series of related short stories revealing a young girl's growing understanding of the world. At first, she sees the boundaries of the neighborhood; later, she sees the boundaries of the people around her. At first, the world is tremendously interesting and a bit scary; later, it's sort of raggedy and painful, something to figure out,

The book's strengths are its insightful descriptions of people and places, along with the dialogues that the main character has with herself and that she records of others. They make the book come to life: you can see these people and places, and you find the thinking and conversations familiar because you've had them yourself. Probably you once pondered the back of the closet or found yourself rejecting everything your mother said or did for no reason…when you read this book, there are ways in which it's like holding up a mirror.

The best story in the collection, I think, took place when the narrator was taking a drama class in which everyone was supposed to be molecules. When one molecule moved, it affected everyone, just like when things happen to people in real life. The metaphor is apt and well developed.

and this is both the strength and weakness of this book. The pictures are pretty and the descriptions are apt, but there's really not much of a plot. It's a little like reading a very very good sketch book where a writer is practicing her skills rather than a full book with narrative drive. I loved some of the scenes, but mostly felt like I was trapped in a collage.
Profile Image for Eli.
201 reviews18 followers
December 30, 2012
If asked to rate this book when I first read it in my early twenties (15 years ago now), I likely would have given it 5 stars. It delves into great pain - a pain I well resonated with from my own growing up - with lyrical beauty. The questions of what it means to be beautiful, what it means to be a woman, what it means to be our own self, encircle and threaten to strangle the protagonist here. I recognized myself.

In reading it now, though, I find myself revisiting all that pain, for no discernible payoff. I don't find much to like in the narrator/central character. She is understandably overcome with common limitations of her age - self-absorption, shallowness, casual rejection of others - but I met no real redeeming qualities in her before losing interest in the book and putting it down unfinished.
Profile Image for Brandy.
17 reviews2 followers
March 5, 2013
Admittedly, I struggled a little with this book. I liked it, but then I did not. If Chavez's intent was to tell the stories of the people on her street, I had to have that spelled out for me in the end. At first, I wondered if she was working with fragmented stories within a story to reflect random memories, which in some cases works well. But the stories are so fragmented at times that I lost sight of the characters and the narrator of the story. There are also some areas that feel overdone, particularly with the dialogue between the characters toward the end of the book. I did love, however, how Chavez uses language to paint the picture of solitude, feeling lost, growing up, and the stories of culture. As a daughter of the Southwest, I love stories that illustrate la familia and mestizaje.
Profile Image for Igonzales.
19 reviews
November 22, 2013
Denise Chavez wrote one of my favorite books, Loving Pedro Infante, but I found this book difficult to read. The writing style was difficult to follow. I did stick with it because I hate to start a book and not finish it and some of the storytelling was so vibrant I could picture the scrub brush desert of New Mexico; however, at other times, the story rambled a bit and I was bored.
Profile Image for Maureen.
1,022 reviews4 followers
May 22, 2013
I wanted to like this because I love the SW but the wandering style left me cold. I usually try to get half way through a book before giving up on it. I quit midway in the book. That was enough time for me.
8 reviews
March 11, 2009
I wanted to like this book, but couldn't get passed the babbling style.
Displaying 1 - 19 of 19 reviews

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