When life gets difficult for Ana Rose, a 12-year-old would-be writer living in a small village in the Dominican Republic, she can depend on her older brother to make her feel better, until the life-changing events on her thirteenth birthday.
About the Author
Lynn Joseph was born in Trinidad and is the author of many picture books for children about her island home, including A Wave in Her Pocket, An Island Christmas, The Mermaid's Twin Sister, and Jump Up Time: A Trinidad Carnival Story. This is her second novel about the Dominican Republic, following her acclaimed book The Color of My Words, winner of the Américas Award. She has two sons, Jared and Brandt, and resides in New York and Bermuda.
Read an Excerpt
Sometimes you have no control over what will happen next, as I discovered the year I was twelve years old'but sometimes you do. And when you do, that's when it is time to take charge because you sure don't know when the chance will come again.
Saturday is wash day for Mami and medown by the river that flows to the sea.We carry the baskets high on our hips. We juggle the soap, the scrub board, and clips.
Our friends wave hola as we slippery-slide On riverage stones to the other side.Where sun rays glimmer on a whisper of shade.And Mami and me tie our hair up in braids.
Then WHACK! I smack the clothes on the rocksto scare out all dirt and grassy spots.Mami scrubs them up and down,and we both swirl them round and round.
Sparkling white, and river cleanthe clothes smell like fresh-air dreams.We clip them safe to bushes and treesto dry in the sun and flap in the breeze.Later, under the moon's blue lightMami and me smooth the wrinkled clothes right.We fold them into neat little squaresAnd take them back home for all to wear.
Wash day was the day i'd get Mami all to myself. For me it was the best day of the week. Unless it rained. Then I'd have to keep on sharing Mami with everyone, especially Papi, who sat on the porch and never moved. Mami had no time to pat her hair down, let alone share private thoughts the way we did on wash day.
At the river's edge, I'd tell Mami all the special things I had thought about during the week. If I wrote a new poem, I would recite it to her while we dipped our hands into the cool water. Itwas just me and her and the river. No other hands, no other ears.
Mami was the only person who knew I wanted to write books when I grew up. I knew it was a strange thing to want to do, because we sure didn't know any writers around here. In fact, Papi told me that in the República Dominicana, only the President could write books.
I think it's true. I went to the libreria and I saw a lot of books by President Balaguer. I told Mami this during one wash day. We were pounding the clothes with rocks, and I gripped mine hard as I beat the dirt out of Papi's overalls and my brother Guario's waiter uniforms.
Mami didn't say anything. She just kept turning her sheet over and over as she pounded away. Finally she looked up and said, “Ana Rosa, there always has to be a first person to do something.”
I think Mami was telling me that there was no reason why I couldn't try and be the first writer who wasn't President of our Island. Either that or she was hinting that I should run for President, and then if I won I could write what I wanted.
Sometimes Mami's words are a puzzle. I have to spin them around and around in my head as if I am doing a mental merengue. Sooner or later I figure out the dance, but sometimes I wish she would just say what she means straight out.
Papi might sound as if he is talking in a puzzle, but I always know exactly what he means. Like when I asked him if I could have a notebook just for writing my poems in. He said, “Muchacha, your head is getting bigger than your hat.”
When I told Mami this on our next wash day, she laughed. But I could tell the laugh was only in her throat and not in her heart.
“Your papi says funny things sometimes, carino,” she said. “He's a dreamer.”
“A dreamer?” I asked. “How can you say that, Mami? All Papi does is sit on the porch and drink rum.”
Mami's hand shot out faster than a lizard under a rock. I felt the pain on my cheek before I realized what had happened.
“You have no hair on your tongue, chica. Be careful!”
I swallowed my tears and beat the clothes harder. Wash day had never been a day of sharp words and slaps. I felt as if Papi was a rock falling down from the hills and into our river. After the big splash, there was nothing but silence.In daylight, silence is louder and angrier than at any other time. There are no sweet measures of silence such as night's stars, or evening's sunset, or morning's growing light. There is only bright, hard silence and it sounds louder than drums.
I glanced over at Mami. She was dipping the clothes into the river. “Look, Ana Rosa,” she said. “Look at the river.”
I looked. The water rushed around Mami's brown knees and through her blistered red fingers, leaving wet kisses on her skin.
“It'll never pass this way again,” she said. “Off it will go down to the sea, where it will foam with the waves and swim with the fish and glide ships along on steady or rough courses depending on its mood. Around and around the world it will go, this water that slips by me so quickly. Far from the República Dominicana, far from me, but always under the same sky and sun.”
I had never heard Mami say so much at one time. I looked closely at the river but I could not see all that she saw in it.
“You are this river, Ana Rosa,” she whispered. “But you must flow softly around the rocks on your way to meet the sea. There you can do as you wish.”
Mami's words were gentle. But her brown eyes were slits of worry like moon slices on a dark night. There was no happiness in the smile she gave me.
Many days and nights I thought about Mami's words. But no matter how I turned them or shook them or chased them from my mind, they always came back telling me the same thing. Mami was scared.