*Pablo Cartaya. Each Tiny Spark.
Read by the author. 5 CDs. 5 hrs.
Listening Library. 2019. Ages 10-14.
Emilia Rosa Torres has a life with many challenges. In sixth grade, Emilia has ADHD learning difficulties; at school her mind is often unable to focus on tasks. Her mother and a school counselor spend much time daily helping her plan and carry out her school assignments. However, Emilia's mother, a software developer, travels frequently for work. Her father, in the military, has just returned from an 8-month tour of duty, is experiencing PTSD, and has difficulty readjusting to home life. This Cuban-American family lives with Emilia's grandmother, referred to simply as Abuela, who runs the family's garage business in a suburb of Atlanta and provides stability for the family. As the story opens, Emilia's mother is attending a conference in San Francisco. Upon his return, her father retreats to work silently in his garage, until he notices Emilia's interest in helping him fix an old car and teaches her to weld. Her Abuela seems at times to be overly critical of Emilia, wanting her to start being more "lady-like." When Emilia is assigned a social studies project - to create a tour guide to her town – she is forced to rely on her own resources and her best friend, Gus, to come up with an idea. Focusing on the familiar Spanish elements of the town, specifically a grocery store where the family buys traditional Cuban foods, Emilia begins to expand her topic. She interviews people and visits the library, where Liz the librarian helps her find relevant information. She learns about illegal immigrants, race relations, and the ethnic complexities of her town. When many students are having difficulty defining and limiting their topics, their teacher refocuses the assignment: they are to attend and discuss in class the topic of the next school board meeting. That discussion concerns community input for the controversial vote to merge two schools in ethnically and economically different neighborhoods in the district. From the research she has already done, this change catches Emilia's interest. She and Gus decide to create a film about different views on the school merger in their community.
This excellent audiobook captures the essence of middle school life as well as family-related issues regarding career demands, veterans, immigration, learning difficulties, inter-generational families, and minorities. Author Pablo Cartaya narrates the audiobook, which while in English, often shifts to Spanish, understandable through context. His novels, clearly based on his own life experiences, "focus on the Latina youth and how they navigate culture, family, and their communities" (cover). This coming-of-age audiobook will appeal to and inspire middle schoolers, like Emilia, who struggle to find their voices, their passion amidst the challenges of daily life. Each Tiny Spark covers many issues relevant to this age group and offers an excellent vehicle for group discussions.
Reviewed by Susan Allison