Based on the author's childhood in the 1960s, a young Cuban-Jewish immigrant girl is adjusting to her new life in New York City when her American dream is suddenly derailed.
Ruthie Mizrahi and her family recently emigrated from Castro's Cuba to New York City. Just when she's finally beginning to gain confidence in her mastery of English and enjoying her reign as her neighborhood's hopscotch queen, a horrific car accident leaves her in a body cast and confined her to her bed for a long recovery. As Ruthie's world shrinks because of her inability to move, her powers of observation and her heart grow larger. She comes to understand how fragile life is, how vulnerable we all are as human beings, and how friends, neighbors, and the power of the arts can sweeten even the worst of times.
This is so good. So, so, so good. And with a cast of diverse characters (read: characters from the real world, not the pale-topia of so many other children's book writers) that you never get to see in books. This will (deservedly) get comparisons to Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, and it's even more complex, since it deals with a secular Jewish family (finally!) and allows the child character complete freedom to pick and choose bits of different religions that allow her to make meaning of her life as she goes through a trauma. And her New York City, populated with immigrants from India, Belgium, and Mexico; Puerto Ricans; and white people dedicated to civil rights, is so real. The story is very sweet and should allow a lot of kids to identify with it, whether it's through the disability lens, Jewish lens, immigrant lens, or whatever other intersectional combination available. Sometimes the Spanish integration feels clunky, but that's about the only criticism I have. I'll be recommending this to everyone this year.
The writing adage goes, “Write what you know,” but not every experience in your life is created equal in the eyes of storytelling. In her middle-grade debut, Ruth Behar detailed the year of her youth spent bedridden in a body cast after breaking her leg. First of all, body cast? For a broken leg?? The medical field has come far since the 1960’s. Secondly, Behar claims she changed details for this fictionalized version, but the main character, Ruthie, had the distinct flavor of a Mary Sue. And that makes sense.
What doesn’t make sense is why the writing style is sophomoric, clunky and transparent, allowing nothing to be inferred. In her attempt to make the characters seem real and fallible, she instead cast them unlikable and in the case of Ruthie’s mother, unforgivable. Making your daughter feel badly because she’s confided to her bed and can’t help herself? So much selfishless everywhere. Thank goodness for Chico and Baba, the lone shining lights.
But what really distracted me from what could have been good elements had they been followed through--religion, immigration, and civil rights, for example--was this nagging sense that this story was meant to be memoir. I am far from saying it’s unworthy to be told, just not for this audience. I teach the kids this book is supposedly targeted at, and I can state with confidence: they would abandon it. Ruthie is whiny and unrelatable from page one.
I won’t be getting a copy of this for my classroom library anytime soon.
This book was made for me! A Jewish girl, in the 1960s, who has a badly broken right leg and ends up in a body cast for months, then reduced casts for a total of close to a year. I had extensive hip operations as a child requiring a body cast (one leg only, thank goodness!) and definitely affected my childhood and life! I don't remember one of the trials that Ruthie had thank goodness. Her mother likely interpreted the doctor's orders a little too severely and kept Ruthie on a very limited diet so she wouldn't outgrow the cast. I remember my parents taking me back to the doctor's office and the cast being redone as I grew. I also seem to have had one experience Ruthie didn't have or chose not to talk about: I got my first period in the cast. Not recommended! Luckily, my parents were much calmer about natural body functions than Ruthie's family and I did not find the bedpan as agonizing an experience as poor Ruthie and her mother did. Not that it was pleasant, especially one time when it tipped over! I think they ended up having to cut some of the cast away after that experience. My parents, perhaps because they were not poor immigrants, or perhaps just having more creativity and common sense than Ruthie's parents, came up with solutions that likely would have made Ruthie's life easier. My mother put me into hand me downs from some cousins who were bigger than me (and heavier, luckily for me) which fitted perfectly over the body cast and gave me the privacy that Ruthie didn't have. And my father pulled out his wheeled board which he used for fixing cars and let me steer myself around on it so I did get to go outside some. Of course, my Dad was extremely strong. Maybe that made the difference. Unlike Ruthie and her mother, I do not remember my parents complaining once where I could hear them. I'm certain it must have exhausted both of them but I don't remember a word of complaint. Like Ruthie, I read a great deal while recuperating. I also had a tutor some of the time but not much. Like Ruthie, my guests tended to be limited to family and family friends. The girl scout troop I belonged to came once and clearly had been told to take the trip. They didn't come back. I did rejoin afterwards but I later dropped out, for reasons I don't remember but I bet I just didn't have friends in the troop, mostly because of my long absences. As Ruthie began to realize when getting physical therapy (her physical therapy experience sounded more interesting than mine. I never remember interacting with other physical therapy clients), this sort of experience can make you stronger in ways you don't expect. There was one powerful scene in the book that just had to be based on personal memories. When she is first in the hospital, she has a mean nurse who warns her she better not make a mess in bed or else she could just lie in it. Later on, she did indeed make a mess and the doctor told the nurse to clean her up and replace the bed linen. The nurse is furious and Ruthie asks the nurse why she is so mad at her. The nurse realizes how mean she was and apologizes and explains she had a sick child of her own and resented having to be away so much to make a living. Sometimes it takes the simplicity of a child to help people understand what is making them so upset.
This book is autobiographical fiction. Recommended for people of Cuban ancestry, especially Jewish Cubans; kids who get ill for long periods of time, or for the experience of making friends with people not quite the same as you. Actually, recommended for all. It should teach empathy which we badly, all of us, need more of!
Ebullient and joyful, this middle grade novel based on the author's early life as a Cuban immigrant in NY was an absolute delight. I wish this book had existed at some point in my childhood. It would have helped me accept myself and my culture a little better at a time I was questioning it.
Based on the author's own childhood experience of being in a body cast for nearly a year, this is truly an amazing, sometimes heart wrenching story of one child's journey in Queens during the 1960's. Ruthie Mizrahi's family has fled Cuba during the Cuban crisis - they are one of the few Jewish Cuban families to have escaped the Castro regime.
Living in a very small walk-up apartment in Queens, Ruthie is known as "Miss Hopscotch Queen of Queens". Her father works hard and long hours, determined to own a car, a luxury not afforded to most in their neighborhood. On a day filled with a happy family gathering outside of the city, the family is involved in a horrific automobile accident - the teenage boy, who caused the accident, and his friends are tragically killed - everyone in Ruthie's father's car survive, except Ruthie has suffered massive injuries to her leg. It is determined that she will need to spend many months in a body cast to repair her broken bones.
And so a new journey begins for Ruthie and her family.
'Lucky Broken Girl' is a middle-grade novel about a girl named Ruth. Ruth is growing up in 1960's NYC. Her family is Jewish and Cuban . It is a semi-autobiographical novel about Ruth Behar's childhood. 'Lucky Broken Girl's focus is on the year Ruth was in a full body cast following a car accident. 'Lucky Broken Girl' gives the reader a unique perspective about childhood injury. It explored, in gritty detail, the boredom, humiliation, sadness, and fear that Ruth experienced during her year in bed. This story was well written and I loved that none of the characters were picture perfect. Ruth could be whiny and self adsorbed at times. Her father was macho and controlling. While her mother is often resentful of Ruth's situation. 'Lucky Broken Girl' is richly detailed. The diversity was well done and the history in 'Luck Broken Girl' was amazing. Ruth and her family are Cuban but are also Jewish so they demonstrate a wealth of cultural identity. Ruth also has a friend who is Indian so there was a lot of information about Indian culture and beliefs. This also made an amazing background story. Ruth's grandparents had left Europe during the buildup to the World War II and then had to leave Cuba during the revolution. Ruth's family members were often yearning for their previous lives. I will say that I felt like the middle of the story dragged. I would have liked to have more cultural traditions or flashes back to Ruth's families past reverences. Something to connect the reader more to the family. I loved 'Lucky Broken Girl's' unique perspective, time period, and diversity. With its rich cultural diversity and description of childhood injury, 'Lucky Broken Girl' is definitely an eye-opening book for middle-grade readers.This review was originally posted on The Book return...
Heartfelt book about a girl struggling to heal both mentally and physically when an accident leaves her in a half body-cast at age 11. But it's also about growing up in the US as a Cuban/Jewish immigrant and the struggles and perseverance of Ruthie and her extended family. Many layers to this book, making a great one to talk and think about.
I had the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar that was generously shared with my Book Relays group. I thought the book was amazing and I feel like I'm quite lucky to have been able to read it. This novel shares the struggle of recovery after Ruthie Mizrahi was seriously injured in a car accident.
It was 1966 and Ruthie's family had recently moved to New York as refugees from Cuba. As difficult as it was for the family to get ahead without knowing much English and having to become accustomed to the fast-paced lifestyle of America, it became even more challenging when the family was in a car accident that left Ruthie in a body cast and confined to her bed for nearly a year.
Suddenly Ruthie was as helpless as a baby and had to rely on help from her family for all of her needs, including going to the bathroom. As time dragged on for her, not only did her leg muscles atrophy, but her self-confidence and independence did as well. Not only would she have to learn to walk again, she would need to build the courage to go back out into the world again.
I loved the character development in this novel as everyone in the family learned to face fears and challenges. Ruthie's mother was very sad to have left her home in Cuba, to face a scary and confusing world in New York. She relied on Ruthie to help her navigate the English-speaking world of places like the supermarket. Once Ruthie was injured, her mother not only became an around-the-clock caregiver, but she also was on her own to make sense of the world. Ruthie, who at the beginning of the book was the hopscotch queen of Queens, becomes a quiet book lover and artist.
I also love the diversity of backgrounds and ideas presented in this book. As Ruthie was recovering and spending so much time examining her beliefs, she began writing letters and prayers to three different gods/angels. She also has friends of different nationalities and cultural backgrounds. But the feelings and experiences these kids display will certainly be relatable to readers from all walks of life. So many kids will be able to recognize themselves in this story.
This book has some terrific themes that will help generate great discussions with young readers. At one point, Ruthie is asked by her teacher to write about what freedom means to her. Freedom has so many different dimensions in this story. Ruthie's family came to America looking for freedom. Ruthie longs for the freedom to get up and walk again. But freedom can be scary, too. And I think all readers can recognize a little bit of Ruthie in themselves when the world seems a little bit too big and challenging. We all have days when we want to stay in our safe beds, instead of meeting the day and moving forward.
This book will be available in April. I can't wait to get my own copy. This book would be a great addition to any middle grade classroom library.
I really wanted to like this book. I felt like the concept was interesting and it had some important things to say - I appreciated that it dealt with immigrants attempting to live in New York, and also a child who struggles with an injury that has her in a full body cast for a year. Talk about something tough to deal with!
However, for me there were a lot of issues. I just didn't like the writing style. It felt like a lot of "this happened, this happened, this happened" without as much emotional explanation. And a lot of telling without letting the reader make inferences. The writing didn't flow or click with me in the way that I would hope.
I also wonder how much kids will connect with this sort of story. It takes place in 1967. Now, I love historical fiction and I think kids can learn a lot, but there are certain things about this one which make me wonder. Ruthie is in a full body cast because of a broken leg. It's an extreme situation that wouldn't happen today - kids break their legs all the time and it doesn't leave them bed-ridden in a full body cast. And the book is about her very slow recovery time, which can make the story feel like it's dragging as well.
And I totally understand how difficult it would be (or was, since this is based on the author's own experiences) for Ruthie to try deal with an injury like this. But she just seemed so whiny to me. I wish they would have gone into more detail about how she was feeling and dig deeper into the thoughts in her mind, rather than just telling us the complaints she had. It just felt like we never got much further past the surface. And they talked about her pooping and peeing an awful lot for my tastes.
I also listened to this one on audiobook and it was read by the author - and I honestly couldn't stand her reading. Most middle grade stuff I listen to they have great narrators who can actually sound like children, but this didn't feel like kids speaking at all. Her words were so slow and drawn out and I just found the narration distracting. I've often come across audiobooks that I think I probably enjoyed more by listening to them than if I read them, but this was one where I wonder if I would like the book more if I hadn't listened to it.
This review is of the audio book. I start with that because I think I would have enjoyed the print version more. I usually like hearing an author read their own words, but that wasn't the case, for me, with "Lucky Borken Girl". This is a very personal story and I imagine it would be difficult for Ms. Behar to relinquish it's reading to another, but I think it would have been worth it to allow that to happen. Inflection, pacing, and oddly paced, frequent mid-sentance pauses throughout were distracting. Attepts at French, Indian (with a tinge of British) accents would have been better left undone. And finally, way too much whining by several characters. I very much disliked repeated references to "the dumb class" which was never rectified. Ruthie says she and her friend Ramu were put in "the dumb class" just because they couldn't speak English. At some point she could have had a realization that having your class or your self labeled "dumb" could be as damaging as some of what she has to overcome. Some scenes were just awful. One in particular was when bedridden Ruthie becomes constipated, she is given a suppository by her mother. "Mami sticks something inside my butt that feels like a stick of butter." No explanation that it was anything other than "something." If I had read that as a kid, i would have thought her mother was doing something abusive. Good things? The characters- from Cuba, Mexico, India, Belgium that brought muliculturalism and a sense of an immigrant community with varied experiences, faiths, foods, cultural practices. The ages- young and old with personalities, concerns, joys, sorrows, and love to share. Friendships and relationships built and developed over the course of the book. A sense of the time (1960s) by including songs and fashion that was popular then. Education and love of reading. Art and writing as expression and a way to overcome fear and loneliness. Having dreams and faith to see them though. Overall it's a very good book if you can ignore "the dumb class," but I'd try the print version if given the choice.
This middle grade #ownvoices novel about a Cuban-Jewish immigrant in the 1950s is a poignant story of fitting in and recovery. Ruthie Mizrahi is based on the author as a child, and the emotions of the real-life trauma are unmistakable in the story. This is a powerful tale and readers will feel all of Ruthie's pain, sorrow, and joy as she works her way through the year - from accident to body cast to bed-ridden to discovering art and finally recovery. Her friends and neighborhood are a depiction of the melting pot that America truly is, and it is a delight to have this authentic and culturally diverse book to add to middle grade shelves. Recommend for all elementary and middle school libraries.
*my one and only objection to anything in this book is a small one, but worthy of mention from a current school librarian and former special education teacher. Ruthie mentions and objects numerous times during the book to being placed in the "dumb" class in school because of her beginning English skills. While I understand this was the term used at the time in the 1950s, I do cringe a bit thinking of this word being used during a read-aloud of this book in schools, or having students encounter this word and depiction of special education while reading independently. If I were reading this to students, I would either 1) discuss how "dumb" was used during that time period, but now we all know that that is not what special education classes are, or 2) replace the word during read-alouds. In my mind, this is worth mentioning to students during booktalks and such.
I received a digital ARC of this title for review - all opinions are my own.
Because this was based on the author's personal accounts of an accident where she was in a body cast for a year, I was most interested in finding out how she ended up. But listening to 6 CDs of the author narrating the story just about made me poke my eardrums out with a sharp stick. The whole thing was sing-songy and whiney. But when someone is in a body cast for an entire year, you kinda want to know how it all turned out.
This book contained so much in its tiny volume. I loved that this was basically a creative memoir, and even though it took me a little bit to get into the story, I loved hearing Ruthie’s response to challenges and all of those who helped her. Her story of immigration is one that many readers can identify with.
More like 3.5 stars. This is a story based on the authors life and it is such an interesting tale. It's funny that it felt so one-dimensional (to me) when there were so many layers to her story. Ruthie is a Jewish immigrant from Cuba, her grandparents survived the Holocaust, her two friends are also immigrants - one from India and the other from Belgium, her neighbor is from Mexico, and her tutor is a free-thinking hippie. A good read but might not resonate with my students - I hope I'm wrong.
This was lovely. I don't read much (or any) Middle Grade, but I really enjoyed this story about a young Jewish Cuban immigrant who breaks her leg in the summer of 1966. Confined to her room for many months in a body cast, she goes through a ton of emotional growth and learns to appreciate her life. The diversity in the story is A+. It was written for a young audience but gently touched on a lot of grown-up themes, including racial equality and immigrant rights.
I loved this book! It was a book of sadness but also happiness. This book I think the lesson is to never give up even in the toughest times. I would recommend this book to any reader. LOVED THE BOOK SO MUCH!!
Lucky Broken Girl is the heartfelt and touching story of young Ruthie's recovery from a horrible injury that challenges both her body and her family. At times difficult to experience--from her mother's mixed emotions to the pain of recovery--this story shows what it means to persist.
I'll be honest -- I was frustrated with this book at first because of the harsh stereotypes (of women, of men, of refugees, of ELL students, of Cubans, of Americans) and the absolutely peculiar turn of events when Ruthie broke her leg in the car accident and was put in a full body cast. A full body cast?! I should have realized earlier that this book was set in the 1960s, but a child with no historical reference for Castro would be just as clueless as I was. This makes me wonder about the kid readability of the book. After reading the author's note at the end (wish it was at the beginning!), I can appreciate the story told from a child's perspective, observing her parents' actions and writing down what they actually say. This is exactly the kind of book I would write about my own childhood experience of being bedridden for nearly a year. It's amazing to read about something so familiar that made me feel so other and completely different at the time from another's point of view. The power of stories to connect us all is so very real.
When I was young, my mom shielded me from difficult things. I learned about hard things from books. To this day, books have provided my foundation for understanding man's inhumanity to man, cruelty, life's challenges, etc. I wish I had a book like LUCKY BROKEN GIRL by Ruth Behar to read when I was young. It's such a beautiful, hope-filled blend of memoir/creative non-fiction about a Jewish girl who comes with her family from Cuba to New York. A terrible accident leaves her in a body cast and bedridden for nearly a year, where she learns to love painting and reading books. This gorgeous book is good for enlarging one's heart and is filled with hope. I also enjoyed the bits of so many languages sprinkled throughout -- Spanish, Yiddish, Arabic, French.
The 2018 Pura Belpre Award winner, Lucky Broken Girl, tells an incredible story of healing, forgiveness, and love. Through the voice of ten-year-old Ruthie Mizrahi, author Ruth Behar shares a fictionalized version of her own childhood trauma. Ruthie's family has recently immigrated from Cuba to Queens, New York. Ruthie is just starting to adjust to her new life when she gets in a terrible car accident that leaves her bedridden indefinitely. In the months that follow, she struggles to answer this universal question: “Do you know how to become whole after you’ve been broken?” (151).
Ruthie’s journey teaches readers many powerful lessons on suffering and healing. As her nurse, Amara, explains, “we all have scars...Some of us have scars you can see and some of us have scars that we hide deep inside” (185). Ruthie also learns that her pain won’t last forever, but her scars will remain a part of her story. In the end, she discovers that no matter how broken we may be, with the love and support of family, friends, and self, we can become whole again.
While this book explores many universal themes, it also includes an abundance of specific cultural references. Given that the author writes from experience, the representation of immigrants and Cuban culture feels authentic and multidimensional. From Ruthie and her Indian friend, Ramu, being placed in the “dumb” fifth-grade class due to their limited English, to Ruthie’s mother ridding the house of anything that reminded her of Cuba, Behar reveals the harsh reality that many immigrants face. Readers also meet Ruthie’s neighbors from Mexico, India, Belgium, and Morocco who hold differing opinions on assimilation versus preserving their native culture and language. Further, Behar includes many Spanish phrases and even a few Yiddish phrases, as Ruthie’s family is also Jewish. While the Spanish language seems to be integrated naturally into the dialogue, there are some instances of “double speak” where these phrases are immediately repeated in English.
Lucky Broken Girl would be a wonderful addition to any fourth to sixth-grade classroom and lends itself naturally to research/inquiry on immigration. Whether students study Ellis Island, immigration out of Cuba, the Holocaust, or the current refugee crisis, they are sure to draw parallels to Ruthie’s story. Students can also explore their own family history. My one critique was that Behar didn’t explicitly reveal the time period (the mid-1960s) until more than halfway through the book. While there were subtle hints throughout the chapters, I struggled to establish the historical context for much of the novel. Perhaps Behar was just trying to show us that Ruthie’s journey of recovery and resilience transcends time!
"When we lived in Cuba, I was smart. But when we got to Queens, in New York City, in the United States of America, I became dumb, just because I couldn't speak English."
With these brilliant first lines, Ruth Behar launches into a narrative that starts strong, collapses into a tangled mess, and ends as a puddle of sugary goo.
The beginning portion set up some great dynamics: her frustrations at school, her mysterious friends Ramu and Danielle, her grief over Cuba, and her family dynamics. Next, the disaster occurs and the reader is compelled onward to see how their beloved protagonist will survive.
In her author's note, Behar describes her memories of her own body cast experience as a "kaleidoscope of vignettes." That perfectly sums up the middle portion of the book. Fascinating ideas are introduced but not adequately developed: Ruthie's religious awakening; drawing strength from personal relationships, and feeling the grieving process for her injury. What impediments do these developments have? How is Ruthie changing? How do these elements affect each other? It's not clear; events just sort of drift by, and Ruthie becomes gradually flatter. The most disappointing part was the sense of family dynamics. I felt like I knew her family better on page 30 than I did on page 230.
In the end, Ruthie learns to walk. That's it. There's a reference to feeling a blessing fall on her, but she doesn't seem substantially changed. The religious themes are not resolved. Ruthie gains some confidence, but not in a terribly convincing way. Her personal relationships grow, but how do they change her? To what extend has she emotionally recovered, and to what extent will she continue to struggle?
When I reached the last page, I involuntarily yelled, "Barf!" at the sappy ending. In the author's afterward, Behar mentions that the reality was less of a "fairy tale" than the book. I wish Behar had given us more truth and less fairy tale.
Have you ever had an experience that totally changed the course of your life? Ruth thought that her life was already off-course. But then, she got terrible news.
One of my middle school Pizza & Paperbacks kids recommended this to me, so I decided to add it to my 2018 Middle School booktalk line-up.
Ruth breaks her leg, and her doctor decides that she needs a cast that covers not only her broken leg, but also her other leg (because she's still growing), and her torso. I doubt this would be the treatment now, but this was several decades ago. The story is based on the author's life.
It's engagingly written. And I loved the fact that Ruth is Jewish, and from Cuba. That realistic intersectionality is good to see in our fiction for kids.
It wasn't a super-big-hit of my booktalks, but I think the cover is good enough that the right kids will find it.
Lucky Broken Girl in my opinion was really really good. I loved how the book created suspense at multiple points throughout the story. I never wanted to put it down. I thought it was really unique that the author, Ruth Behar, included different characters of 5 different cultures in the book. The book had some Spanish and French words in it which I also liked. Lucky Broken Girl was a quick read that I would recommend to anyone.
My 12 year old self who spent 7 months laying on the couch with mono really identified a lot with Ruthie. Knowing that this story is based on the authors real life experiences made me give it 4 stars. It's definitely a heavier middle grade read. There's a lot of heavy situations and experiences that happened to Ruthie and around her, but overall the moral of the story is everyone is broken in one way or another it's how we continue to live our lives that matters most!
That last line though... so beautiful and while I think it was a little slow in pacing, it was a fabulous hopeful and uplifting story about the power of the human connection and art in recovery hearkening to stories of Frida Kahlo, but wait for it... Ruth Behar herself and the accident that left her much like Ruthie.
A captivating middle grade with an immigrant experience story and how sometimes being misunderstood means having to find the people that understand you and root for you.
I thought this book was great! It was so inspirational and hopeful. It was inspirational because Ruthie showed me that you can do anything you put yourself too! It was hopeful because every step of the way she had hope and faith, and thats what helped her stay strong. The word usage in the book was great too, it was easier to read in-spite of the confusing situation. She showed me that I should stay strong and just do my best.