Thursday, May 16, 2013

Book Spotlight: Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel

© 2014
Hachette Book Group, Inc.
Happiness, anger, love, jealousy, peace, and worry. Everyone has experienced these feelings, especially as a thirteen-year-old, and these are all the emotions Erica “Chia” Montenegro is feeling the summer before eighth grade.

In Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel (coming out this June) Diana Lopez, author of Confetti Girl and Choke, introduces us to Chia, whose life is turned upside down when she learns her mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer and must undergo a mastectomy and radiation treatments. She finds herself juggling the responsibilities of family, school, and friendship, all while keeping up the façade that she can handle it all without help. This story captivated me in its honesty, heart, and humor; the protagonist is funny without forcing it, and the emotions, which as indicated by the title, swing from excitement and anticipation to dread and sadness, are authentic. Chia is a character any reader can connect with. And it doesn’t matter that she also happens to be Latina. 

A challenge we hear a lot is that multicultural books tendency to become niche books. They fall into the category of only being a window for many readers—those outside of that particular background are peeking into a different world, which might prevent them from connecting with the characters. We’ve also heard of the common mirror metaphor, where the story reflects the reader. But how about a differently kind of mirror, one that not only reflects our commonalities but also allows us to see something little different too? (Like a fun-house mirror, but less scary.) When we focus on creating a realistic story and character first, it allows the multicultural details to fall in naturally. Chia eats migas and it’s mentioned just as naturally as a preference for scrambled eggs. And just because she’s Latina, it doesn’t mean she speaks Spanish. Like the author, more than anything else, Chia is American. In fact, she’s Texan—like Diana.
Photo: Todd Yates/
Corpus-Christi Caller Times
More specifically, here we see the difference between a Latina character and a character who happens to be Latina. One is someone who is mainly defined by her cultural background. Her hair and skin color and syntax will be clearly called out. She is not an individual; rather, she is token, the one who represents an ethnicity. The other is a realistically rendered character who has many distinctive traits, which includes her culture. Like the characters in Diana’s books, she might love funny t-shirts and helping her friends, and also enjoy cracking  cascarones on someone’s head (actually, I don’t know if anyone in the world could dislike this!).

Sometimes, in our efforts to bring diversity into our books, I fear that we tend to do the former; we play up cultural and ethnic descriptions, and end up falling into stereotypes. We forget that these characters first and foremost need to feel as real as our best friends, our annoying little siblings, and ourselves. Diana writes from the heart and writes what she knows. Her characters are inspired by her own life and her observations of her students in her South Texas classroom when she was a middle school teacher, and because of this, Chia is not just Latina. Like us, she is many things, as different and complex as the colors of her mood ring.


  1. she has the right idea and this helps me narrow down a couple things i should do if i ever wrote a book. Been from such a diverse background i can relate how it could be difficult to connect with everybody. because alot of the readers wont understand some of the lauguage that i would product. but she is very well setting a example for anybody who desire to wrote a book, that come for some place different then most. I dont believe i have much impact on the conversation but i do realize the point. yes blogging can bring more insight to anybody who is willing to learn.If your not aware of some these efforts could result in a major down for as a writer.

  2. Great review! This book was a "sleeper" for me - I actually really enjoyed this book and will be posting a review during the middle grade summer book club on my blog. Would love to have you visit this week sometime - feel free to post a link to your review as well. I liked how you differentiated between a book with a Hispanic Character & a character who just happens to be hispanic. I think a lot of girls will connect with this one!

    Thanks! Tina 'the book lady'