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REVIEW: Adios to My Old Life by Caridad Ferrer

Dear Ms. Ferrer,

141652473801lzzzzzzzThis year, Jane, Janine and I are participating in the 2009 TBR Challenge.   I know your novel doesn’t fit into March’s theme but given my past history with this challenge, that should come as no surprise.   It was in my TBR pile, however.   And since I was in the mood for a YA, your book did the trick.

Ali Montero is a good, Cuban-American girl.   She goes to Catholic school and shares a love of music with her father, who’s a music professor.   He wants and expects her to become a music teacher just like him.   That’s all well and good, but Ali doesn’t want to teach music.   Oh sure, she can but that’s not what fills her soul.   What she’d much rather do is perform.

To that end, Ali auditions for a TV competition, Oye Me Canto — a Latin American version of American Idol.   At 17, she’s one of the youngest but age means nothing to talent.   Much to her shock and delight, she’s selected to be a finalist.   Great thing, right?   It would be if it weren’t for the fact that Ali entered the competition without her father’s permission.   After all, he wants her to become a teacher and he just wouldn’t approve, let alone let her.   But getting her father to let her on the show is just the first of Ali’s challenges.   Now she’ll have to figure out if the price of reaching her dreams is worth it.

While I don’t watch the show anymore, I was a huge fan of American Idol when it first premiered.   That might sound strange because I never voted.   Not once did I try.   In fact, I rarely watched the results show.   But I love music and I love watching people perform — it’s very true.   You can tell when a performer is on and when they choose the correct song and style.   So it was interesting for me to read a YA take on this.

Ali’s voice was great.   I loved the Latin American culture that pervaded through the whole book.   It informed her character and personality in a way that made her a fleshed out character.   Of course, this was helped by the fact that the cast was mostly Latin American — maybe even entirely; I’m trying to think of a non-Latino character and am failing — so the characters ran the gamut, making a great and diverse cast.

On the other hand, there’s nothing exactly new here in the story.   I think the well-done Latin American culture brings a fresh spin to it, but the other elements will be familiar.   There’s a cute boy that Ali likes.   There’s a rival who’s out to sabotage Ali’s chances of winning.   There’s Ali’s transformation from being a normal girl to being a future star.   This didn’t bother me because I thought it was well executed, but I think readers looking for a new and innovative read will probably not be as satisfied.

Because of the reality TV show premise, I also think the novel can be a little episodic.   Don’t get me wrong.   Every part fits into the story following Ali’s quest to become the next Latin American superstar, but sometimes I thought we’d flit from one thing to another without leaving much lasting impact.

I did like the subplot involving Ali’s father and his love life.   I thought Ali’s perspective on the whole matter was very refreshing.   Except for the notable (and understandable) exception, she takes it all in stride and makes no secret of who she thinks he should be dating anyway.   There’s no anger over him finding a new love.   There’s no competition for attention.   In fact, I liked the fact that Ali thought he should have found someone new a long time ago.   She loved her mother, but Ali didn’t put her on a pedestal and doesn’t consider a new partner to be a "replacement."   I liked that and after reading many a young adult novel in which the narrator is antagonistic towards the parent’s new significant other/romantic prospect, it was nice.

All in all, I thought this novel was a pleasant, comforting read.   The cultural aspect put a wonderful spin on a familiar story.   At the same time, there were also enough twists and surprises to keep me entertained.   I don’t like my stories too familiar, after all.   All things considered, this comes out to a B- for me.

My regards,
Jia

This book can be purchased in trade paperback from Amazon or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

9 Comments

  1. JulieLeto
    Mar 18, 2009 @ 08:24:34

    I gotta disagree on this one. Adios to My Old Life was an A++ read for me. To say there is nothing new here is to totally ignore, at the very least, the incredible lyricism of the writing itself. When people toss around the phrase, “Good Writing,” this is what it should mean. The way Ali’s character related so much of her experience in musical terms was utterly brilliant and believable. The characters, the family interactions, the show, the conflicts, everything grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go.

    Also, the fact that the cast is entirely Latino is also fresh and new. In this book, unlike in many others, the non-Latino aren’t cast villains. Everyone is Latino and you don’t know who is good or bad or in between. These are real people who, in my experience, reflect the wholeness of my ethnicity. The book isn’t about culture at all…but then, at the same time, it’s all about culture.

    To each his own, but I think calling this book “pleasant and comforting” blows my mind. I was blown away by this book and it remains one of the top ten novels I’ve read in recent memory.

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  2. Darlynne
    Mar 18, 2009 @ 09:12:22

    I also loved this book, for many of the same reasons Julie listed above. Ali was an exceptional and engaging character.

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  3. Lynn M
    Mar 18, 2009 @ 09:47:59

    I enjoyed this book for the most part. I liked Ali as a heroine, but she tended to be a little too perfect for me. She was the most talented, the most mature performer (despite being the youngest), the best musician, etc.

    Too, I thought the villianess was over the top in her antics to ruin Ali’s chances on the competition.

    I couldn’t have cared less about Ali’s father’s love life because I felt it got only the most superficial treatment. I knew from the beginning how it would turn out, and given that Ali had been only 2 when her mother passed away, it wasn’t as if she had to deal with major amounts of angst or guilt about the idea of her father finding love elsewhere. This part of the story fell flat for me.

    But I did enjoy the sort of behind the scenes feeling of what it might be like to be a contestant on an American Idol-sort of show. What an exciting fantasy for any young person to imagine.

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  4. Brussel Sprout
    Mar 18, 2009 @ 10:39:49

    I found it a really enjoyable book, but I’d agree with the Jane write up – the writing is good, but that should be a given in a book, surely!

    The setting and Ali were fresh and unusual, and I’m looking forward to more from the same author.

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  5. Jia
    Mar 18, 2009 @ 11:17:04

    @Brussel Sprout: Ferrer’s written one other YA that I can tell, also with a Latino perspective. I wonder if she’s working on more.

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  6. Janine
    Mar 18, 2009 @ 12:35:27

    @Brussel Sprout: The reviewer of this one was Jia.

    I haven’t read this book, but re. good writing as a given — maybe it should be, but sadly, all too often IMO, it isn’t.

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  7. Keishon
    Mar 18, 2009 @ 16:48:30

    I read this book and agree with the grade. I wasn’t blown away by it unlike some other readers. I noted the antics of the villain as being over the top, too.

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  8. Barb Ferrer
    Mar 18, 2009 @ 22:12:27

    Hey all– first off, thanks, Jia for the very nice and fair review. It’s kind of a surprise to see the Google alerts pop up on Adiós these days and this one was a pleasant one. *g*

    And thanks to Julie for her unwavering support of the book– she was one of Ali’s first fans and it never fails to touch me monumentally whenever I see her mention her love for this story, especially because it’s one that’s so close to my heart.

    Normally, I don’t comment much on reviews, if at all, but I do value the reader/writer back and forth, so I feel comfortable saying a couple of things of with respect to it. I know there has been more than one criticism leveled at Fabiana and what an obvious villain she was– well, she was meant to be. She was meant to evoke the absurd, over-the-top villains one finds in the Spanish-language telenovelas. Same thing with how she dressed, which I know some folks have criticized as too much virgin/whore dichotomy. It wasn’t really meant that way, although I get how it could have been seen in that manner– it was more again, I was trying to evoke the over-the-top outrageousness of how so many Latin entertainers dress. Not the crossovers, mind you, but the ones who remain almost exclusively within the Latin entertainment realm– the awards sho outfits in particular, OMG, they’re completely over the top! Fabiana could’ve been the nicest person ever and still dressed that way, just because in certain entertainment circles, it’s expected. The Venezuelan beauty queen who’s briefly referenced also suffered from this fashion malady– but unfortunately, she didn’t get to stay on stage long enough for the parallels to come through.

    At any rate, what I’m trying to say is that those two things, in particular, were calculated risks, in culling from the overall Latin entertainment culture. For some people it worked, for others it didn’t, and really, that’s just the risk a writer takes with almost any aspect of a story.

    One way or another, I think the thing I’m proudest of with Adiós is that different parts of it resonate with different readers– that’s something that makes me really happy.

    Thanks again. :-)

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  9. Jia
    Mar 19, 2009 @ 07:29:08

    @Barb Ferrer: I think that’s one of the great things about Keishon’s challenge because it encourages us to read and review older books. We get so many books to review here at DA for new and upcoming releases that sometimes those older works get lost in the shuffle, which can be a shame since interesting discussions can pop up with the other books since more people have read them. (Not that interesting discussions can’t pop up with the new/upcoming books! It’s just that the discussions are different.)

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