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Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx

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The Pura Belpré Honor winner for The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano and one of America's most influential Hispanics--Maria on Sesame Street--delivers a beautifully wrought coming-of-age memoir.

Set in the 1970s in the Bronx, this is the story of a girl with a dream. Emmy Award-winning actress and writer Sonia Manzano plunges us into the daily lives of a Latino family that is loving--and troubled. This is Sonia's own story rendered with an unforgettable narrative power. When readers meet young Sonia, she is a child living amidst the squalor of a boisterous home that is filled with noisy relatives and nosy neighbors. Each day she is glued to the TV screen that blots out the painful realities of her existence and also illuminates the possibilities that lie ahead. But--click!--when the TV goes off, Sonia is taken back to real life--the cramped, colorful world of her neighborhood and an alcoholic father. But it is Sonia's dream of becoming an actress that keeps her afloat among the turbulence of her life and times.

Spiced with culture, heartache, and humor, this memoir paints a lasting portrait of a girl's resilience as she grows up to become an inspiration to millions.

272 pages, Hardcover

First published August 25, 2015

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About the author

Sonia Manzano

21 books79 followers
Sonia Manzano (born June 12, 1950) is an American actress and writer. She is best known for playing Maria on Sesame Street from 1971 until her retirement in 2015.

Manzano was born in New York City and was raised in South Bronx. Her parents moved to New York from Puerto Rico. Manzano attended the High School of Performing Arts, where she began her acting career. She attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh on a scholarship.

In her junior year, she came to New York to star in the original production of the off-Broadway show GodspellManzano joined the production of Sesame Street in 1971, where she eventually began writing scripts for the series. On June 29, 2015, it was announced that Manzano would be retiring from the show after 44 years.

She has performed on the New York stage, in the critically acclaimed theatre pieces The Vagina Monologues and The Exonerated. She has written for the Peabody Award-winning children's series, Little Bill, and has written a parenting column for the Sesame Workshop web site called "Talking Outloud".

In 1979, the Supersisters trading card set was produced and distributed; one of the cards featured Manzano's name and picture.

Her children's book No Dogs Allowed, published by Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing in 2004, is one of five books selected by the General Mills initiative "Spoonfuls of Stories". As part of that effort, Manzano is working with General Mills and its nonprofit partner, First Book, to encourage children to read and to help children across the United States gain access to books. The book has been adapted as a stage play. She is also the author of The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano (2014).

She has served on the March of Dimes Board; the board of the George Foster Peabody Awards; and the board of a New York City theatrical institution, Symphony Space. She is a member of the board of advisors of the Project Sunshine Book Club. She was featured in the Learning Leaders (volunteers helping students succeed) poster, designed to encourage reading in NYC public schools.

Manzano was nominated twice for an Emmy Award as Outstanding Performer in a Children's Series. As a writer for Sesame Street, Manzano won 15 Emmy Awards. In 2004, she was inducted into the Bronx Hall of Fame.

Manzano has received awards from the Association of Hispanic Arts, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, the Hispanic Heritage Award for Education in 2003, and the "Groundbreaking Latina Lifetime Achievement" award from the National Association of Latina Leaders in 2005. She received a Doctor of Fine Arts degree from University of Notre Dame in 2005. As in Ms. Manzano's case, a D.F.A. is typically an honorary degree conferred to someone who has made a significant contribution to society in the arts. The Dream Big Initiative of the Bronx Children's Museum honored Manzano in 2014.

Manzano resides in the Upper West Side of Manhattan with her husband Richard Reagan, whom she married in 1986, and their daughter Gabriella.

(from Wikipedia)

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5 stars
221 (21%)
4 stars
412 (39%)
3 stars
310 (29%)
2 stars
81 (7%)
1 star
14 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 224 reviews
Profile Image for April.
538 reviews2 followers
June 21, 2015
I'm hoping Sonia Manzano writes another memoir about her life after "becoming Maria"... not only would I love to hear about her time on Sesame Street and as a writer for the show but also for how her life changed and what else happened to her family.
Profile Image for Aliza Werner.
1,044 reviews90 followers
September 7, 2015
I have been anticipating this book's arrival since I heard it would be written. Growing up with SESAME STREET on television every day, Sonia Manzano's character Maria felt like a grown up friend, someone I knew without having met her. She taught me Spanish. She reminded me of my Dominican best friend's mother. She told me my emotions were okay. She was honest and real. From a young perspective, I knew that. Like so many others in my generation who grew up with the show and characters, this book was sure to tap into nostalgia. It did, but it wasn't about SESAME STREET...it was about the person she was shaped to be and shaped herself into that created the character of Maria. She became Maria not in spite of her chaotic upbringing, but because of it. Sonia's retirement from the show hails the end of an era, but her legacy and story before the "on camera" story lives on in these pages. I cried at the end. I didn't want our journey together to end. If only we knew every friend and stranger's story. All of the love and all of the chaos. We might have a greater appreciation for our common human struggles and successes. Thank you Sonia for sharing your story.
Profile Image for Kelly Hager.
3,102 reviews133 followers
July 21, 2015
This is a fascinating memoir but you should be aware that it stops as she's auditioning for Sesame Street. (I hope there will be a followup memoir!)

This is also told in a series of vignettes beginning when she's a child and ending when she's about to start Sesame Street (as we know, but she doesn't).

Sonia Manzano's writing is amazing, though. Even with a few words, it's possible to picture everything she's talking about. It's something I admire a great deal.

If you've been curious about the woman behind Maria, this is for you. (And now that she's retired from Sesame Street, I very much enjoyed reading this. And again, followup, please!)

Profile Image for bjneary.
2,426 reviews85 followers
June 29, 2017
I read this memoir as part of June nonfiction month chat with #yearofya 6/29 at 8PM, join us to talk about YA nonfiction. Sonia's story of her chaotic family life from the time she was a youngster until she wins her role as Maria on Sesame Street was enjoyable but also heartbreaking. For an authentic look into her Latino/Puerto Rican roots, her family history, and Sonia's view of all that transpires in her life, the reader will alternately ache and root for Sonia's honesty (in her many stories and asides) in a world that often scared/angered her but ultimately urged her to resilience despite the challenges of her family and home life.
Profile Image for Kathy Kelley.
81 reviews1 follower
March 1, 2016
EXTREMELY disappointed in this book. While I knew it would cover more than just her adult life, it was totally focused on her childhood. Sesame Street was a fleeting thought and very little mention was made of her role as Maria. The title is a total misnomer. I felt totally misled. If this book had been marketed differently, I would have had different expectations.
Profile Image for Susan.
116 reviews12 followers
March 18, 2016
This is one of those books that made me feel my worldview stretching while I read it.

Probably like every other Sesame Street fan, I picked this up thinking it would have something to do with Sesame Street. Instead, I was whisked away to a childhood as a Puerto Rican immigrant in a viciously poor family in the 50s. It was so real I could have touched the furniture and eaten the food.

Manzano tells her life, not from the perspective of an adult looking back, but from her perspective as a child while she lived it. Often that means that obvious questions go unanswered because a self-centered seven-year-old didn't ask them. Sometimes I read about an event that I didn't understand until she reflects back on at some point years later. Some of the missing details are so maddening that I've been trying to find out about Manzano's life from other sources. Sadly, her Wikipedia page is pretty pathetic.

From a craft perspective, she did the edgy write-in-present-tense thing, and it WORKS.

This story drags forth so many uncomfortable questions -- Why so many people repeat their parents' seemingly unhappy lives while others march away, why someone clings to what hurts them most, the ups and downs of what it means to be embrace the culture you grew up in.

But while it's troubling and thought-provoking, it's also determined, unsupressable, and ultimately triumphant.

The last scene is Sonia's audition for Sesame Street, and it ends with a sense that she walked right out of the book and on to the screen to capture the hearts of my entire generation.
Profile Image for Crystal.
2,189 reviews114 followers
February 17, 2016
Memoirs have always been a favorite of mine. I enjoy seeing how people respond to the particular challenges that they face. Sonia shared the difficulties of living with domestic violence and her ways of coping and even achieving in spite of her home life.

I really enjoyed her novel, but this book was not as fluid. The stories seemed fragmented. Perhaps some of that is because childhood memories are often fragmented. I had a hard time staying focused even though many of the stories were interesting.
Profile Image for Anna-Lisa.
179 reviews
June 17, 2017
I wasn't sure what to expect with this book (I saw it on display at the library)... although I was surprised that it dealt only with her life before Sesame Street. I found it hard to get used to the narration/writing style, but found it easier as Sonia got older. It was nonetheless interesting and I hope she will eventually write about her experience of portraying Maria on Sesame Street.
Profile Image for Saleh MoonWalker.
1,801 reviews277 followers
July 12, 2017
سونیا مانزانو در خانواده ای نامناسب در محله برونکس زندگی می کرد. سالهایی که بدین شکل گذروند و نوشتن اونها در این کتاب، باعث شد که دید دقیقی از شرایط زندگی و وضع افراد در اون محله رو به بقیه هم بده. ایشون در برنامه تلویزیونی Sesame Street هم به ایفای نقش ماریا پرداخت که دقیقا شرایط توصیفی کتاب رو به تصویر کشید.
نثر ساده و توصیفات دقیق و ناراحت کننده ای داره و سرعت پیشرویش هم مناسبه.
Profile Image for Perri.
1,312 reviews49 followers
September 28, 2015
Part one had way too much detail about her early life, which was indeed rough- It reminded me of a poorly written A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Part two and three were more interesting, but overall I was disappointed with this one..
Profile Image for Kristina Smith.
51 reviews
November 20, 2015
Only a Puerto Rican could appreciate her description of the typical chaos she describes growing up in a Puerto Rican home. I listened to this book through Audible, and her voice as the narrative makes the book even better. I would give it five-stars if only the beginning had caught me right away. It took me until 1/3 of the book to finally relate to all of her experiences. I think at times it could be hard for other readers to comprehend the abrupt changes in her story unless from a Latin background.
Reading other reviews, it seems like everyone bought her book wanting to know more about her life as Maria during Sesame Street! This was never my expectation however, and her story by herself is an amazing and definitely fun read. Especially good for younger kids growing up in poverty, it sends such a great message.
Profile Image for Jen.
94 reviews3 followers
May 22, 2016
I found the narration style unique. It is not 1st person memoir from the grown adult POV remembering the past, using their current knowledge and wisdom to frame the re-telling. It is more like growing up along side the narrator - knowing only what she knew at age 5 or 14. It took a little getting used to but then it felt like a genius way to handle a memoir.

I really enjoy books that take me to childhoods so very very different than mine. They help me put context to any stereotypes I may have learned.

I do wish there had been at least a chapter or two on, say, the first day reporting to work on Sesame Street type things. But perhaps that is a second memoir - :) - once she accepts the job.
555 reviews4 followers
March 28, 2022
It's a powerful story. Not at all pleasant. Heck of a tough way to grow up. Sonia had some great teachers who believed in her. Hats off to those teachers who make a difference.
Profile Image for Barbara.
13.3k reviews276 followers
December 21, 2015
Sonia Manzano grew up in a troubled household in the Bronx, and this memoir offers insights into her formative years as well as how she eventually found herself through acting. Many readers will be familiar with the author from her role as Maria on Sesame Street, and they will be stunned to read about her trials and triumphs. For those not familiar with the television program, they will be impressed by this honest account of a girl who grows up into a teen who wants more than those around her seem content to have. In many respects it's a loving tribute to the many complicated elements that formed her cultural background, the politics and music of the time that led to her awakening. Many teen readers will relate to her search for her own identity and her constant dreaminess and resilience when it might seem her creativity had been crushed, a victim of the weighty responsibilities of her home life. Not even the actions of her abusive, alcoholic father or her mother's inability to end her relationship with her husband or even the family's poverty and constant moving from place to place would keep her from persevering. There is a sense of doing the best one can and then getting out of the way throughout the book as the author celebrates the music, the foods, and the beauty of Puerto Rico, her parents' home, and the awareness that things will work out as they are meant to be. The last line in the book makes that clear: "Then I go home, because there is nothing else to do but wait for the next thing to happen" (p. 262). I am anxious to hear about the rest of Sonia's journey and learn more about her family and what happened next, which leaves me hoping that there is a sequel and a continuation of this riveting personal account. Perfect for sharing with students whose lives have had ups and downs or those whose path have contained more detours than smooth glides along the Interstate, this book inspires while also sharing an honest look back at the way things were for Sonia.
Profile Image for Amy_lberry.
12 reviews3 followers
November 9, 2017
Sesame Street was my show as a kid. I watched it every morning in the living room with a bowl of Frosted Flakes on the coffee table. This lyrical, aching memoir is a riveting insight into the real life childhood of one of my favorite characters. As a child especially, you don't consider the person behind the character you see on the screen, but this book allows the reader into Sonia Manzano's chaotic formative years.

Spanning from when she was young until just through her span in Godspell, this memoir mainly focuses on Manzano's development in those crucial years of childhood--the same years she played such a significant role for a whole generation of American children. She allows the reader into the harrowing story of her parents tumultuous relationship and the lasting effect it had on her development into adulthood.

One of the things that struck me about the memoir was Manzano's presentation of her own consciousness. At times, she seems disengaged from both the world around her and the world inside her own mind. Many of the things that she does surprise her and seem to occur without much forethought on her part. I read this to be a coping mechanism to deal with the confusing and often violent reality of an abusive parent.

But there is love and joy in this story, too. Manzano's descriptions of her extended family vibrate with the warmth and wonder of growing up in the Bronx surrounded by cousins and the bustle of urban life. Similarly, Manzano's rendering of her precarious relationship to her parents' past in Puerto Rico flows just beneath the surface of her childhood and of the story like a creek running slowly home.

More whimsical and zesty than other popular contemporary memoirs like Glass Castle or The Color of Water, this book is great investment for both fans of the show and fans of the grace of human endurance. While it doesn't cover her time on Sesame Street, it does give the reader a picture of how the woman who would later be Maria came to be herself.
Profile Image for Lindsey.
413 reviews19 followers
January 10, 2023
While I found Sonia Manzano's stories of growing up to be fascinating, I couldn't help but think that her memoir would have really benefited from the help of a ghost writer. The narrative was not very smooth and there was a sense of disconnect throughout the book. Some parts were well written but it definitely suffered from the lack of a seasoned writer who could weave together a cohesive narrative from beginning to end. It helped that I was so interested in her story that these problems did not stop me from enjoying the book, especially as I have sincerely fond memories of Sonia as Maria from childhood. And I don't think it would take much to clean up the narrative. It's an issue that is important because her story should get out there in the best possible form it can take.

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Jo Beth.
42 reviews2 followers
September 19, 2016
Growing up, Sesame Street was not to be missed in our house. My generation was the the first one to experience such a program. The mix of adults, children, and puppets was very magical for me. And my favorite adult on Sesame Street was Maria. I loved her because she was so funny, so enthusiastic, yet could be tender and loving to a child (or a puppet) when it was needed. So reading her memoir was an eye-opening revelation.

It is a wonder that she did not become a victim of her circumstances: an abusive father who drank too much and a mother who worked hard but was beaten by her husband and tired of her life and, at times, her children. Yet it is because of her upbringing that she became the woman we all loved on television, Maria. I highly recommend this book!
Profile Image for Mike.
1,313 reviews22 followers
September 6, 2015
Sonia Manzano's memoir tells the story of a life lived in the face of oppressive odds and a hard fought for feeling of love in a family that was both intact, and terribly broken. There are grace notes and joyful scenes interspersed among acts of violence and cruelty, and the fact that Ms. Manzano made it from such harrowing conditions to become an educator, winner of 15 Emmys, and a positive role model to many generations of children in her 40+ years as "Maria" on Sesame Street says a lot about her heart, character, and drive.

I loved this book, and I can't imagine how difficult it must have been for Sonia Manzano to write it.
Profile Image for Claire.
798 reviews93 followers
August 29, 2015
Many separate thoughts. 1) I bet she scoffed at the saccharine and misleading publisher's blurb. 2) you know how A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is raw and harsh and reminds you that kids are living and surviving in ways that their teachers know nothing about? it feels facile to compare the two because of the setting they share, but the two books really are so similar in tone and feel. 3) I kept marveling that she survived and thrived without being a reader, without books as a primary means of escape or creating space. amazing.

Shelved in YA in my library, but this is a mature memoir in tone and content. a crossover at least. gritty, smart, well done.
Profile Image for Toni.
1,415 reviews9 followers
August 19, 2016
This memoir is frank about an unhappy childhood in a violent household. There are many happy moments, but Sonia Manzano lived in fear of her father most of the time. It was difficult for me to read, at first. I became much more engaged as she reached her teen years. I was fascinated to find out that she was in the cast for Godspell as it was being developed. I was hoping for a little more about her years on Sesame Street, but it ended just after her audition. Though we do know what happened. Those who love Puerto Rico will enjoy reading about Sonia's first experiences with visiting her parents' country. I did.
Profile Image for 77mswoods.
260 reviews7 followers
February 9, 2018
My God. I loved it. Being that Sesame Street is my “Ride or Die” and has been for my entire life, reading this memoir was like finally getting to have a sleepover weekend with your old best pal, uncovering things you never knew about them. Manzano’s writing is magical, nuanced, warm, humble, and lyrical. Just like the majority of her best-known acting projects. I hope, hope, HOPE there is another installment to this story. Also, as a note to myself- 100th book since January 2016.
Profile Image for Brina.
933 reviews4 followers
October 21, 2015
Most celebrity memoirs I read are a life timeline with a little commentary thrown in. This book reads like a novel. Now that the author has left Sesame Street I would love to see her writing more books like this because she has a powerful voice that deserves to be shared with her fans. Gave 4 stars as opposed to 5 because slow moving at beginning.
Profile Image for Yapha.
2,711 reviews74 followers
December 25, 2015
This was powerful and intense and I wasn't able to put it down. Sonia Manzano is an excellent storyteller and her life story drew me in from the first pages. She doesn't pull any punches, but lays out the gritty, raw reality of her early childhood through the end of her teens. Highly recommended for grades 9 & up.

ARC provided by publisher
Profile Image for Beth Shorten.
615 reviews1 follower
May 7, 2017
It is the subtitle that is more accurate than Becoming Maria. It is the story of Sonia as she grew up and grew into the actress she became. There is nothing Sesame Street here, other than her audition (which comes at the end of the book). This is the tale of growing up poor and Puerto Rican in New York. It's not a pretty tale, but it is not meant to be.
Profile Image for Amy Anderson.
115 reviews7 followers
December 28, 2015
I wasn't always sure how old the author was in her narrative and the flow was a bit jarring. I would have loved to know more after she was on Sesame Street, her finding her husband, more of who I saw on TV growing up.
Profile Image for Sonja Rutherford.
216 reviews4 followers
March 15, 2016
I just couldn't even finish this one - I only got a few chapters in and maybe it gets better. I have a hard time when a book is written from a child's (childish) point of view, it was just a snoozefest and difficult to get through. Maybe I'll pick it up again someday.
40 reviews1 follower
February 10, 2016
Enjoyed it very much! Sonia writes her memoir beautifully. She is full of fight and I loved reading a book about a young woman who, while sometimes insecure, has love for herself. A nice change from many so many young female characters who are primarily insecure.
Profile Image for Hedy.
6 reviews
August 7, 2022
This made me feel things.

I went into this blind. I did not watch Sesame Street when I was young, so I didn't know who Maria was. I do applaud the book cover for drawing me in.

This book caught me off guard with its topic. Not in a neccessarily bad way, I just didn't expect it.

In Becoming Maria, Sonia, our main character, tells her life story.

I liked how each story was weaved in. When you try to recall your past, it usually don't come in entire sections. It comes in fragments of the memory you remember the most.

Memory is subjective. There is no rule on which ones get remembered. The memory can be negative, positive, or nothing special. But there is always something significant in that particular moment that leads the memory being ingrained in your mind forever.

This is true for the story, as Sonia experiences good things and bad things throughout her life. She makes mistakes, but learn from them.

However, I could not bring myself to like this book. Maybe it's just how real everything is. I probably wouldn't pick this up again.
Profile Image for Becca Brault.
13 reviews
March 29, 2019
Sonia Manzano, who acted for many years on Sesame Street as Maria, tells about growing up in the Bronx as a Latino. Sonia’s memoir tells about the many struggles her and her family went through. It also tells about how she escaped her hard times and grew to become a very influential woman.

I really enjoyed this book because of the amount of details she shed on what her life growing up was like. I also enjoyed how vivid she describes the places she goes and how she’s treated from a young age. I found this book to have a lot of different aspects from family, to friends, school, and more.
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