Parrot in the Over: Mi Vida
by Victor Martinez
Martinez, Victor. Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida. New York: HarperTrophy, 1996. Print.
Summary: Fourteen-year-old Manuel Hernandez, or Manny, wants nothing more than to grow up and be someone that is respected. Which means, he wants to be quite unlike a lot of the other men in his own life. His father has turned to alcohol to deal with his problems, especially when he loses his job as a translator. His brother, Nardo, cannot keep a job very long because he lacks the skills and responsibility needed to make them long term. His mother, meanwhile, spends her time cleaning the house often to try to wipe away their family problems. And there are a lot of problems, as they live in the projects. Manny knows in his neighborhood one of the only ways to gain respect is to join a gang, and he is not sure that he is willing to go through with something like that.
Critical Analysis: Based on the publishing year of this book, it is listed as a fiction book, rather than under the category of young adult literature. Due to this, I do believe that it might be a book that some students would avoid. The book does have many redeeming qualities. The protagonist is a likeable character. He has strengths and weaknesses, and he is trying to figure out who he is, and who he wants to be in the future. The book gives us insight into several different characters, but as we only get the book through Manny's perspective, we miss a lot of insight and detail into the characters and how they feel. While I do think that it is beneficial for readers to see these characters through Manny's eyes, I do believe the book could have a bigger impact with a more omniscient narrator.
Overall, the novel was a bit difficult to follow. Each chapter was more of an individual story than a stepping stone in an overall plot. The stories did not always run together well or in a way that made sense, either. While the tone and voice of the novel was enjoyable, it is vital for young adult fiction novels to have a plot that can be easily followed. Not doing so may cause some students to stop reading out of frustration.
Creative Activity: An activity that would be enjoyable with this novel is one I like to use with my students called the Post-Mortem of a Protagonist. Students choose a character from a novel, in this instance they would select Manny. They then work in a group to trace one of their group members' outline onto butcher paper. They have a list of questions to then answer based on their character, and they follow along with body parts. For instance, the question that goes with the eyes would ask "what did the character see? Why was this important to him/her?" or for the feet "what did the character do/accomplish?" This activity allows students to do a more in depth character analysis.
Related Resources: For related resources, I like to include books that can be used with the one reviewed. For instance, books by the same author, books about the same theme, or perhaps one with the opposite viewpoints. Two related books would include Novio Boy: A Play by Gary Soto as it is also about a boy trying to come into his own, especially when it comes to dating girls (something we see Manny struggle with in the novel). The other related resource could be Somewhere in the Darkness by Walter Dean Meyers as it also depicts a boy struggling through a relationship with his father, and trying to come to terms with their differences.
Publisher's Weekly. Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida, 1996. Web. 14 June 2016. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-06-026704-9