Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth BeharLucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar

Lucky Broken Girl

byRuth Behar

Hardcover | April 11, 2017

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Winner of the 2018 Pura Belpre Award!

“A book for anyone mending from childhood wounds.”—Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street

In this unforgettable multicultural coming-of-age narrative—based on the author’s childhood in the 1960s—a young Cuban-Jewish immigrant girl is adjusting to her new life in New York City when her American dream is suddenly derailed. Ruthie’s plight will intrigue readers, and her powerful story of strength and resilience, full of color, light, and poignancy, will stay with them for a long time.
Ruthie Mizrahi and her family recently emigrated from Castro’s Cuba to New York City. Just when she’s finally beginning to gain confidence in her mastery of English—and enjoying her reign as her neighborhood’s hopscotch queen—a horrific car accident leaves her in a body cast and confined her to her bed for a long recovery. As Ruthie’s world shrinks because of her inability to move, her powers of observation and her heart grow larger and she comes to understand how fragile life is, how vulnerable we all are as human beings, and how friends, neighbors, and the power of the arts can sweeten even the worst of times.
Ruth Behar (, an acclaimed author of fiction and nonfiction, received the 2018 Pura Belpré Author Award for Lucky Broken Girl, her first book for young readers. She was born in Havana, Cuba, grew up in New York City, and has also lived in Spain and Mexico. An anthropology professor at the University of Michigan, she i...
Title:Lucky Broken GirlFormat:HardcoverDimensions:256 pages, 8.56 × 5.75 × 0.92 inPublished:April 11, 2017Publisher:Penguin Young Readers GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0399546448

ISBN - 13:9780399546440


Read from the Book

Chapter 1: I am not dumbWhen we lived in Cuba, I was smart. But when we got to Queens, in New York City, in the United States of America, I became dumb, just because I couldn’t speak English.      So I got put in the dumb class in fifth grade at P.S. 117. It’s the class for the bobos, the kids who failed at math and read­ing. Also in it are the kids the teachers call “delinquents.” They come to school late and talk back and are always chew­ing gum. Even though they’re considered the bad kids, most of them are nice to me. “Here, Ruthie, have some Chiclets!” they whisper and pass me a handful.      We aren’t supposed to chew gum in school, so we hold the Chiclets in our mouths until we go outside for recess. Then we chew the Chiclets to death and stick the gook on the bottom of our desks when we come back inside.      Most of the kids know I’m in this class because I’m from another country, not because I really belong there. Or maybe I do belong there? It’s been eight months since school started and our teacher promised I wouldn’t be in the class for long.      I am not dumb. I am not dumb. I am not dumb . . .      The first time I worked up the courage to raise my hand in class was a few weeks after we had arrived from Cuba and I was wearing flip-flops instead of shoes and socks like the other kids. But when our teacher, Mrs. Sarota, called on me to answer the math problem, I didn’t have the words to say the number in English.      “Well, Ruth?” she asked, staring down at my bare feet. “Do you know the answer or not?”      I froze and a few kids laughed at me. But not Ramu.      He’s not dumb either. Ramu is in our class because he’s also from a different country. He comes from India and was raised there by his grandmother, who only speaks a language called Bengali. His parents came to New York first, and after they made enough money, they brought Ramu and his little brother, Avik, here.      Ramu has picked up English faster than I have because his parents know English and force him to speak it at home. Mine are always yelling, “¡Habla en español!” Especially Mami, who can understand a little English, but is usually too embarrassed to try to speak it.      Ramu is skinny and bows his head when anyone talks to him. I’m his only friend and that’s because he lives down the hall from us on the sixth floor of our apartment building. Ramu brings Avik to school and I bring my brother, Izzie. Our little brothers are in the same kindergarten class. But af­ter school Ramu and Avik rush straight home. Mrs. Sharma doesn’t let them play with the other children.      Their apartment smells different from ours. I get whiffs of it whenever we stumble into each other on the way to school. Today when Ramu and Avik stepped into the hall, Izzie and I were waiting for the elevator, and I asked, “What is that perfume?”      “It’s my mother’s curry,” Ramu says.      “What’s curry?”      “A spice. It makes everything taste good, even cauliflower.”      “That’s amazing.”      “Yes, it is. And my mother burns sandalwood incense. She says it’s good for meditation and the spirits like it too.”      “Spirits?”      “People who used to be alive, when they’re not alive anymore, become spirits. My grandmother says they are all around us. We can’t see them but they watch over us. Of course, spirits don’t eat, but they can smell fragrant things like curry and incense.”      During lunch at the cafeteria, Ramu offers me something from his lunch box, a pastry filled with mashed potatoes his mother made.      “It’s a samosa,” Ramu tells me. “Maybe you’ll find it too spicy.”      Some kids at the table pretend to hold their noses. One says, “It smells like sweaty armpits!”      “No it doesn’t!” I shout back.      I take a slow first bite. It tastes like a papa rellena, a crispy stuffed potato my nanny Caro made for me as a snack in Cuba. Eating Ramu’s samosa makes me feel like Caro and Cuba aren’t so far away.      “It’s real good! Thanks, Ramu.”      Ramu gives me a shy smile. “Very glad you like it.”      I beg Mami to make pastelitos de guayaba after Izzie and I get home. The following day, I give Ramu one of the sweet pastries at lunch.      “The filling is guava fruit. I hope you’ll like it,” I tell him.      Ramu eats it slowly without saying a word. When he’s done, he finally says, “I like guavas. We have them in India too,” and I sigh.      “And do you have mangos in India?”      “Oh yes, drippy sweet mangos.”      “Just like in Cuba!”      “I don’t just miss the mangos,” Ramu says. “I miss being able to go outside and play with friends. My mother worries too much about us. She doesn’t let us do anything by our­selves.”      “I know what you mean. In Cuba, even when I was five years old, my mother used to let me take a taxi all by myself to go visit my aunt Zoila, who used to sew pretty dresses for me. Can you imagine?”      “Yes, here everything is different,” he says, with a faraway look in his eyes.      “But maybe one day we’ll both get to taste mangos in India and Cuba!” I say, trying to cheer him up.      “Oh, Ruthie, I like that you have such an imagination!”Ramu and I sit together every afternoon after lunch period so we can practice our English.      Our favorite story is “The Princess Who Could Not Cry,” about a princess who is placed under an evil spell and forgets how to cry. She laughs at everything, even sad things. When they toss away all the toys she loves from the tallest tower of the castle, she laughs, even though she feels terrible.      A little ragged girl arrives and announces, “I’ve come to help the princess cry.”      The queen tells her, “Promise me you won’t hurt my daughter.”      The little ragged girl curtsies and replies, “I promise, Your Majesty, I will bring no harm upon your daughter. I just want to help her.”      She goes into a room with the princess and draws two on­ions out of her bag.      “Let’s peel these onions,” the little ragged girl tells the princess.      As the little ragged girl and the princess pull apart the layers of the onions, the tears start pouring from both their eyes.      That is how the princess learns to cry!      The evil spell is broken, and the little ragged girl and her poor mother are given a nice house next to the castle where they live happily ever after.      “That is the best story!” I say to Ramu as we finish read­ing aloud.      “Yes, it’s very fine,” he replies. “Very fine indeed.”      “Ramu, you always talk such a fancy English.”      “Like they do in England. It’s the Queen’s English, you see.”      “Yes! And now we live in Queens!” I say, joking.      “Very charming, Ruthie. That’s almost funny.”      “Let’s ask Mrs. Sarota to test us!” I tell Ramu.      “But will you ask her, Ruthie, please? You see, in India, we don’t talk to the teacher unless the teacher talks to us.”      “Okay, I will ask. I’m not afraid of the teacher.”      Mrs. Sarota comes to our desk and I say, “Me and Ramu are ready to switch into the smart class.”      “In English, we say ‘Ramu and I.’ ‘Me and Ramu’ is in­correct.”      I don’t lose my courage. I repeat, “Ramu and I are ready to switch into the smart class.”      “Is that so, young lady? Both of you?”      “Yeah, Mrs. Sarota,” I reply, trying to keep from giggling. Mrs. Sarota wears her hair in a big bird nest on top of her head and today it’s lopsided.      “Very well, young lady. Which of you can spell the word ‘commiserate’?”      Ramu gets it wrong, but I get it right—two Ms and only one S.      She doesn’t ask, but I also know what the word means. To “commiserate” is to feel sorry for somebody else’s bad luck.      “Very good, Ruth. I agree you’re ready to be promoted. But remember to say ‘yes’ rather than ‘yeah.’ On Monday, you can join the regular fifth-grade class.”      I see Ramu gazing sadly toward the floor. It’s not fair. He’s much better at English than I am. He talks like the Queen of England herself.      “Please, Mrs. Sarota, can you give Ramu another chance? Give him a harder word and see if he can spell it. Please.”      Mrs. Sarota’s eyes suddenly sparkle. “You said the magic word, ‘please.’ Ramu, can you spell the word ‘souvenir’?”      I would have gotten that word wrong, but Ramu knows how to spell it right.      “Excellent job, Ramu. You are also promoted,” Mrs. Sarota says. “On Monday, you and Ruth can join the regular fifth-grade class.”      “Mrs. Sarota, you are very kind,” Ramu says in his most polite voice.      Ramu gives me one of his shy smiles and that is enough of a thank-you for me.      I knew I wasn’t dumb. I knew Ramu wasn’t dumb either.      It’s Friday. After the weekend, when we come back to school, both of us will be in our new class with the smart kids.      Yippee!      I collect my schoolbooks and say good-bye to the other kids. One of them looks sad that I’m leaving and gives me some Chiclets. “You may need them!”      I wish all the kids could come with Ramu and me to the smart class. I don’t think any of them are really dumb. They just find school boring. They’d rather play all day.      In a chorus they call out, “Bye, Ruthie! Bye! Study hard or they’ll send you back here again!”

Editorial Reviews

“Lucky Broken Girl takes us into a world that is at once deeply familiar and astonishingly new—the world of young people negotiating English as a second language, of families being forced from their homelands, of bodies learning to move (and not move), and of friendships across cultural divides. But most of all, it is the world of Ruthie, an unforgettable character whom I grew to love and cheer for.”—Jacqueline Woodson, author of Brown Girl Dreaming“Reading Lucky Broken Girl feels like meeting a courageous new friend who will be with you forever. Ruth Behar succeeds at infusing her tale of heartbreak and suffering with a glorious celebration of forgiveness and hope.”—Margarita Engle, author of The Surrender Tree   “A powerful story of fortitude and courage that will remain in the hearts of young readers.”—Marjorie Agosín, author of I Lived on Butterfly Hill   “In the shadow of tragedy, little Ruthie finds the light of love and optimism. Although it indeed takes a village to raise a child, her story of resilience and triumph reminds us that sometimes it takes a child like Ruthie to raise a village. An engaging and magical read for children and adults alike.”—Richard Blanco, author of The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood   * “A cultural anthropologist and poet, the author based the book on her own childhood experiences, so it's unsurprising that Ruthie's story rings true. The language is lyrical and rich, the intersectionality—ethnicity, religion, class, gender—insightful, and the story remarkably engaging. . . . A poignant and relevant retelling of a child immigrant's struggle to recover from an accident and feel at home in America.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review“Behar’s first middle grade novel, a fictionalized telling of her own childhood experiences in the 1960s, is a sweet and thoughtful read, slowly but strongly paced, and filled with a wealth of detail that makes the characters live. Both poetic and straightforward, this title will appeal to young readers with its respect for their experiences and its warm portrayal of a diverse community. In addition to Ruthie’s realistic and personal voice, the novel’s strength is in its complex portrayal of the immigrant experience, with overlapping stories of who goes and who comes and the paths they travel. Recommended and relatable. Hand this to fans of Rita Williams-Garcia and those who loved The Secret Garden.”—School Library Journal“Strongly sketched novel. . . . Readers will get a powerful sense of the historical setting through Ruthie’s narration, but the novel is perhaps defined even more by her family’s status as immigrants and by its memorable multicultural cast. . . . Behar successfully juggles several engaging plot threads, and Ruthie’s complicated relationship with her mother, given the demands of her care, is especially compelling.”—Publishers Weekly“From facing feelings about the boys who caused her accident, to finding herself in painting and writing, to learning that she isn’t ‘slow’ just because English isn’t her first language, Ruthie faces everything with an impressive inner strength. Fans of character-driven middle-grade novels, particularly those looking for diverse books, should be easily charmed by Behar’s story, which is inspired by her own childhood as a Cuban immigrant in 1960s New York and her first-hand experience of surviving a car crash and spending a year in a full-body cast (an author’s note offers some illuminating details).”—Booklist “[Ruthie] smoothly integrates the layered immigration stories of her grandmother, Ramu’s family, her Mexican neighbor, and her own family, giving her story a pleasing accessibility that complements and expands impressions young readers may have of immigration, urban life, and coming back after tragedy.”—The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books“A touching story about friendships and losses, forgiveness and fear, vulnerability and determination, prayer and patience. . . . An exceptionally diverse case of characters and perspectives. . . . Teens will likely find the many lessons Ruthie learns to be valuable and often insightful.”—Voice of Youth Advocates“An unflinchingly honest first-person narrative . . . (an appended note provides more context and encourages readers to ‘speak up. Tell your story’). Effectively scattered Spanish phrases lend authenticity, while period references evoke the 1960s setting.”—The Horn Book* “[Ruthie’s] world is so tangible that readers will feel they’re sitting on the stoop of the Mizrahis’ apartment building. But even these details pale beside the emotional clarity of Ruthie’s voice. In particular, her prayers at the end of most chapters recall the candid petitions of Judy Blume’s Margaret. Equal parts heartbroken and hopeful, Ruthie is a middle grade heroine for the ages. . . . Emotionally true and unexpectedly funny.”—Shelf Awareness, starred review