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The Smell of Old Lady Perfume

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  142 ratings  ·  40 reviews
Claudia Guadalupe Martinez’s debut novel for young adults is a bittersweet story about death, family, and the resilient emotional strength of the human heart. Chela Gonzalez, the book’s narrator, is a nerd and a soccer player who can barely contain her excitement about starting the sixth grade. But nothing is as she imagined—her best friend turns on her to join the popular ...more
Hardcover, 248 pages
Published July 1st 2008 by Cinco Puntos Press
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Average rating 3.77  · 
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Nov 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: childrens
If I could give this book ten stars, I would! This story resonated on so many levels for me personally. Chela Gonzalez is looking forward to 6th grade; but on the first day of school, her beloved Apá (father) has a stroke. Chela struggles to cope with the changes in their lives brought about by her father's illness, the changes in her relationships at school when she is ostracized by girls in her class, and the changes in her body as she begins puberty. Sprinkled throughout with references to th ...more
Oct 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
It's a straight-foward book about growing up that reads like a poem. The story shows the challeges you go through and how one kid overcomes them. I enjoyed it... I loved it! I definitely recomend people of all ages read it. It will make you cry. It wil make you laugh. Great read over all. ...more
Oct 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Alicia by: my son
I need to get into a book in the first few pages and this book caught my interest right away. It's emotional, and it makes you think about your childhood. It took me back and made me think about how simple and complicated things were all at once. Me encanto. I haven't liked a book that much since I was that age. ...more
Nov 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It is the story of Chela Gonzalez, 6th grader who endures the isolation of loosing her best friend to a clique. She remains on the outside of the group for most of that school year. All the while dealing with the sudden illness of her Apa` and trying to win the All-School Girl Trophy. The isolation makes studying hard an easy task, since none of the girls will speak to her at school.
There were a few editorial errors, which always bothers me, but the writ
Nov 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: young-adult
Chela faces the angst of sixth-grade as well as the loss of friends and a family member. This story would be a great pre-teen read especially for girls as they would easily identify with the trials and tribulations of growing up, loss, and being a survivor.
Dec 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Read this book. Not everyone has as good a life as you might think it is. I will write more later.
Edward Sullivan
A beautifully written coming-of-age story about a sixth grade girl dealing with the everyday trials and travails of tweendom and coping with the lost of her father. Honest, real, and poignant.
Jan 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The stories of our childhood are the ones that stick around for the majority of life and this book is no different. Chela’s story begins with the summer ending and the beginning of the 6th grade. She’s excited because she’s going to be in a different class with her best friend Nora and there nemesis Camila will be attending another school. The night before her Apa (father) guarantees to wake her and take her to school. The next day, Chela’s life is turned upside down. She must now navigate a new ...more
Liliana Soltero
Sep 29, 2017 rated it liked it
The central idea of the book is anything is possible with hard work. There are various examples of the central idea throughout the book. An aspect of the book that I liked was that I could relate to the book. I think many people will be able to relate to it because many people have experienced the death of a family member and struggles at school. An aspect of the book that I disliked was that it wasn't the most intriguing in the middle of the book so I would not rate it a 5. The only interesting ...more
Vicky Goad
Jan 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: umw-2018
Great book for young people. Very moving and interesting.
Logan Alley
Aug 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Good young adult read.
David Gallin-Parisi
Jan 22, 2012 rated it liked it
This book taught me a lot about Texas, and the Mexican culture of Mexican Americans. The star of the show is Chela Gonzalez, who is just starting sixth grade when family tragedy occurs. Her father has a stroke. Chela's first days of school are delayed while he recovers. Later he suffers another stroke and suddenly dies.
This is a great book for tweens because it shows a life in transition, specifically life with a positive male father figure who passes away. Chela's dad is a source of strength fo
Nov 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Smell of Old Lady Perfume is a own-voice narrative for middle grade children about young 11 year old Chela and the year her life changes. Chela’s family is very close and they happily reside in El Paso, TX. The four children are very loved by their parents who are very involved in their lives and are always encouraging their education because they were unable to have one. This is a wonderful story about first generation Mexican-Americans and Martinez throws in some really excellent lines abo ...more
This was really a great book. It managed to be enjoyable to me as an adult (well written and atmospheric-- some phrases in the book are truly profound, worthy of great poetry), while still being concerned with all of the things that are important to 5th-6th grade girls. In fact, I had kind of forgotten what those things were, but reading this made me remember it all. That said, it was slightly outdated. I could tell that the milieu described predated even my adolescence in the late 90s-early 200 ...more
Sep 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
I wonder if this story is somewhat autobiographical. It felt very personal - in a good way. Highly recommended. Sorry if the review is a bit random in places. Trying hard not to spoil.

The story is told in the voice of Chela, the daughter of Mexican immigrants who is about to start 6th grade. She is excited about 6th grade, hoping to be popular. On the first day of school, everything changes. Her world becomes a little bit less safe, and she has to grow up more than her peers. Throughout the year
Flaky Genius
Jan 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I fully expected that I would see Claudia Guadalupe Martinez again. A student of mine in El Paso, Claudia was scheduled to publish her full length work, My Aztec Princess, in our school's literary magazine, The Quetzal. That play was evidence of a rare poetic voice that displayed the personal significance of both her culture and her gender. It was my fault this early work was never published, but I knew that she would have many more opportunities. I always fancied that I would be perusing the sh ...more
Apr 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
This story is told in the voice of a 6th grade girl, Chela, living a transborder experience in El Paso/Juarez. She is about to enter middle school and the unknown world of a new group of friends, new possibilities.
Chela is smart enough to qualify for an advanced course of classes. She is friends with one of the cutest boys in her grade. She speaks Spanish and English and flows from one to the other without thinking. Her family revolves around her father, a strong anchor for Chela. She shares th
Jestin (inbeTWEEN Books Blog)
To start off I think this book was fantastical! 'The Smell Of Old Lady Perfume' was a sad book as well as happy. Most of it was sad but the author Claudia Guadalupe Martinez used her special writing powers and put something happy in a few chapters. This book has some Spanish words and songs throughout the book, but repeats the same thing in English over again so any non Spanish speakers will understand the story. The author gave great details that you can actually picture in your mind and see wi ...more
Jan 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
Chela is going into sixth grade. Her father has a stroke. Chela's voice sounds like that of a young teen - facing the daily issues with peers, her feelings, her thoughts seem genuine for a character of this age. The author reveals beautiful details about the culture of this particular Latino family (El Paso, TX) that I was unfamiliar with - homemade cafe con leche, "Mary Service" - Catholic tradition of girls attending church after school and wearing a dress with a veil and putting daisies on th ...more
Sep 21, 2010 rated it it was ok
Many issues are tackled in this book: death of a parent, bullying, not fitting in culturally, loneliness and sibling rivalry. I had a hard time buying the relationship between the dad and the kids. It was all too perfect—he never got upset with them and they were never angry with him. Especially for the older twins who were 14, that seemed really unbelievable—almost too innocent and sweet. The plot is very predictable, which doesn’t make this book bad it just doesn't make it particularly enticin ...more
Medeia Sharif
Nov 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Chela Gonzalez's father falls ill, the mean girls at school turn her into a pariah, and she experiences puberty. The title is derived from the smell she associates with the arrival of bad things—the scent of old lady perfume—and Chela does go through many bad things, but she overcomes them. Although Chela is an eleven-year-old in the sixth grade, this novel has the feel of a coming-of-age story. I found so much meaning in this book as I related to Chela’s struggles and triumphs regarding family, ...more
Brianna K
Dec 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
The Smell of Old Lady Perfume was a good book abou a girl who is very close to her dad, but then he whole life turns upside-down! Chela's dad has a stroke, but doesn't die. Chela has no idea what to do though. If you read this book you'll see what it's like to go through hard times. I recommend this book to anybody because it's not just for girls or about girls, but it's about a family who's world changes! ...more
Barbara Lovejoy
May 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I did not remember that I had already read this book until I saw my previous review from almost 10 years ago!!! It was once again a delightful book, and I especially loved reading it in Spanish.

May 14, 2011: This is a delightful book. It is one we'll definitely want to put in our Esperanza school library as it is about a Hispanic family that many of our future students will be able to relate to.
Apr 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Martinez totally nails being 11. This book brought me back in a way that spending 7 hours a day with 11-year-olds never has. I thought I remembered what it was like until I read this book and realized....I blocked out so much! The writing is poetic and it' emotional heavy-hitter. I'm so excited to read this in book clubs with students. ...more
Maelstrom Reviews
Oct 14, 2008 rated it it was ok
I know that this was directed towards a younger audience, but it still felt broken and incomplete. So many important details went unexplained or were glorified in the plot summary, only to pop up once or twice and very briefly in the story. Nothing I would recommend or read twice.
Nov 02, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: the grad student writing her thesis on Mex-Amer identity in YA books
Shelves: middle-grade
Great title.
Cool Mexican folk arty design concept.
Good job showing how difficult it can be to straddle the cultural divide.

I just wish the book itself was a good read. If it's a memoir, make it a memoir. Don't change the names and pretend it's fiction.

Disappointing, overall.
Sandee Mariner
Mar 26, 2009 rated it liked it
I loved the Latin American influence in the book. It was a quick read, and I enjoyed it. however, i think i would have liked it more back when i was in 6th grade.

this is one of my 2006-2008 books
Sep 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
A CPS Elementary Battle of the Books selection, the odd title is perfect. Think about how evocative odors can be and the Eau de Grandma that permeates a house when there's trouble and she comes to watch the kids. ...more
My school received a grant to teach this book to the 5-8 graders. It is written by a Chicago Latina, and I think fits very well with our student population. The prose is sparse, not a lot to hold on to, but the story and experiences of Chela will resonate with many of our students.
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Claudia is the award winning author of The Smell of Old Lady Perfume and Pig Park. She grew up in sunny El Paso (TX), but now lives and writes in Chicago.

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