The Time It Snowed In Puerto Rico: A Novel

Paperback | August 3, 2010

bySarah Mccoy

not yet rated|write a review
It is 1961 and Puerto Rico is trapped in a tug-of-war between those who want to stay connected to the United States and those who are fighting for independence. For eleven-year-old Verdita Ortiz-Santiago, the struggle for independence is a battle fought much closer to home.

Verdita has always been safe and secure in her sleepy mountain town, far from the excitement of the capital city of San Juan or the glittering shores of the United States, where her older cousin lives. She will be a señorita soon, which, as her mother reminds her, means that she will be expected to cook and clean, go to Mass every day, choose arroz con pollo over hamburguesas, and give up her love for Elvis. And yet, as much as Verdita longs to escape this seemingly inevitable future and become a blond American bombshell, she is still a young girl who is scared by late-night stories of the chupacabra, who wishes her mother would still rub her back and sing her a lullaby, and who is both ashamed and exhilarated by her changing body.

Told in luminous prose spanning two years in Verdita’s life, The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico is much more than a story about getting older. In the tradition of The House on Mango Street and Annie John, it is about the struggle to break free from the people who have raised us, and about the difficulties of leaving behind one's homeland for places unknown. At times joyous and at times heartbreaking, Verdita’s story is of a young girl discovering her power and finding the strength to decide what sort of woman she’ll become.

From the Hardcover edition.

Pricing and Purchase Info

$17.98 online
$18.00 list price
In stock online
Ships free on orders over $25

From the Publisher

It is 1961 and Puerto Rico is trapped in a tug-of-war between those who want to stay connected to the United States and those who are fighting for independence. For eleven-year-old Verdita Ortiz-Santiago, the struggle for independence is a battle fought much closer to home.Verdita has always been safe and secure in her sleepy mountain...

SARAH MCCOY is the family columnist for Your Health Monthly magazine and has taught writing courses at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, and at the University of Texas in El Paso. As a child, she spent much time in Puerto Rico visiting her mother’s family. She lives in El Paso with her husband.From the Hardcover edition.

other books by Sarah Mccoy

The Baker's Daughter: A Novel
The Baker's Daughter: A Novel

Paperback|Aug 14 2012

$15.30 online$20.00list price(save 23%)
Un parfum d'encre et de liberté
Un parfum d'encre et de liberté

Paperback|Feb 15 2016


The Mapmaker's Children: A Novel
The Mapmaker's Children: A Novel

Paperback|Feb 9 2016

$17.94 online$21.00list price(save 14%)
see all books by Sarah Mccoy
Format:PaperbackDimensions:224 pages, 8 × 5.2 × 0.5 inPublished:August 3, 2010Publisher:Crown/ArchetypeLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307460177

ISBN - 13:9780307460172

Look for similar items by category:


Extra Content

Read from the Book

Chapter 1May 1961For my eleventh birthday, Papi made piraguas. He left balloons of water in the freezer until they were solid, then peeled the plastic off like bright banana skins. On the veranda, he used his machete to shave the globes into ice chips. Hard bits of cold spit out where the ball and blade met, landing on my arms and legs, cheeks and nose. Papi said it was a Puerto Rican snowfall, and laughed long and deep. Mamá and I did, too. She sat beside me under Papi’s snow until we shivered and held each other close to warm back up. After the balls were chiseled into a pile of white, we poured passionfruit syrup over it and ate right from the bowl. The sweet flakes made my mouth cold and itchy, and I had to suck my lips to warm my tongue. We couldn’t eat it all, though; it turned to a puddle under the sun. Papi said snow did that, changed into everyday water. I’d never been in a snowfall before. I didn’t know.That night, the first heat wave of the season swept over the island and nobody could sleep. I lay in bed, the outsidefever making my underwear dig into my skin and itch.“Papi, tell me a story,” I said. Miserable, I wanted the everyday to shift to dreams.“You’re too old for stories now. Why don’t I read about Jacob and Isaac?” Mamá liked it best when he read from the Bible at bedtime. She believed it would help me dream good things. Papi took a seat in my bamboo chair. The ceiling fan clicked around- around. “Or maybe Daniel in the lion’s den?” He winked at me.When I was little, I had a crush on the brave and mighty Daniel who played with lions. Mamá disapproved. She said that it wasn’t right for someone to have romantic feelings for a dead man, never mind a dead holy man. Papi said it was better Daniel of the Bible than Roberto Confresi, the pirate.“Can’t I hear the story of my name?” I asked.In Puerto Rico, everybody had two names. One was printed on a birth certificate. Another was the one you werecalled, the name you answered to, and that name always came with a story. Mamá’s birth certificate said “Monaique.”Papi’s said “Juan.” But nobody called them that because those names had no story.They called Papi Faro, “Light house,” because as a child he loved to watch the flashing light on Aguadilla Beach. Myabuela, Mamá Juanita, said they often went to Aguadilla to visit her brother’s family. On one par tic u lar visit, the family stayed up late listening to troubadour songs, and just before bed, Mamá Juanita noticed that Papi wasn’t withthe group. Everyone searched the house, but he was gone. Then, from the kitchen window, she saw a small, soft hump sitting outside on the beach rock. It was Papi. He stared out toward the sea, watching the light house beam slice the black again and again. When she asked what he was doing, he said, “Keeping watch.” Mamá Juanita called him Little Faro, and the nickname stuck.They called my mamá Venusa because as a girl she nearly drowned while surfing the northwest coast of PuertoRico. Papi told me how a wave rolled over and pulled her down to the coral bottom. The Ocean King saw her there,her black hair streaking the blue, and thought her so lovely that he decided to change her into a mermaid. The seaweed wrapped her legs and the coral caged her. Mamá prayed for a miracle—to return to our island. Then, justwhen she thought her skin would change to scales, a rush of water pushed her from the King’s prison, up throughthe blue- green, until her eyes saw the sun and her skin sparkled pink. She’d been gone so long that everyone believed her dead, lost to the ocean world. But she was reborn, like the goddess Venus.Those were the stories we lived by. Who my parents were, who I was. My birth certificate said “Maria Flores Ortiz- Santiago,” but they called me Verdita. Papi kept all our certificates on the shelf in his study beside three deadroosters with black marble eyes. The names were as lifeless as the cocks with their sawdust guts. Only our nicknameswere alive. Papi told my story best. He leaned back in the chair. “Venusa, Verdita wants to hear her story again.”From the kitchen where Mamá scrubbed the scales off codfish, she laughed. “She’s like you. Head in the clouds.”But I was glad to be like Papi. Mamá wasn’t a good storyteller. She forgot parts or added things from the priest’ssermons. Papi always remembered it right and always began the same way.He closed the Bible. “Your story started long before you left your mamá’s body, before you took your first breath. Your soul spoke to me from heaven.” I curled up my toes and closed my eyes, concentrating on Papi’s words.In a dream, Papi stood alone on a strange and colorful beach, unlike any in Puerto Rico. The ocean was unusuallycalm, and the air was silent except for the lull of the breeze through the coconut palms. No lick of seaweed or burrow of crayfish—the sand sparkled in rainbow pebbles. In the distance was Mamá, her wavy hair caught in the breeze, black against the light. Papi went to her.I imagined the beach like the photograph I kept in the crack of my mirror. In it, Mamá stood between brightumbrellas and candy-colored towels, a beach carnival. Her head was thrown back, her mouth open, and I could hearlaughter through the glossy paper. On the back was written Visit to Orlando and Lita Virginia Beach, 1950. It was taken just before she got pregnant with me, just before Papi had his dream.He leaned forward in the chair. “And just as I reached her, I heard a burst of water. A sea spout lifted some fifty feet in the air. So high that I had to shield my eyes against the brightness of the sky and the white surf. I was afraid it was the Ocean King come for Venusa at last. But she turned and smiled. She knew what I didn’t. From the top of the spout, a parrot with emerald feathers and two gleaming green eyes flew from the watery perch and landed on my shoulder.”I took a deep breath and held it.“That was your spirit,” Papi continued. “I have never seen such a beautiful bird on earth.”Papi leaned in and kissed my forehead. I could smell the soap and the little bit of Old Spice aftershave that he used so long ago, when the day was first born. I breathed him in.In my story, Mamá had a handful of sesame seeds, and she fed them to the parrot until it was full. Then it tookflight, spreading its emerald wings in the coconut breeze, up, up into the cloudless blue. It left behind a single greenfeather. Papi tucked it in the front of his shirt for safekeeping, but when he woke from the dream, it was gone.“And I was searching the bed looking everywhere for the feather when your mamá came into the room with a cup of café con leche. She asked me what I was doing, and I told her that I had lost something important. That’s whenshe told me she was going to have a baby. You were inside her. And I knew the parrot in my dream was you.”At this point in my story, I always got sleepy. My sheets hugged my body; my pillow cupped my head. I closed myeyes but listened still.“I told your mamá about the dream and she agreed. God must have put me on the shore of heaven so you couldcome to us.”I buried my face deeper into the darkness. “The day you were born, I walked outside our house and noticed the whoosh of the breeze through the palms,just like in my dream. Mamá’s water broke. She was in labor. We thought you were a boy at first—all the troublesshe had. I had to take her to the hospital in San Juan because the barrio midwife was busy delivering two otherchildren, and I knew she could not deliver alone.“I sat outside of the operating room, waiting and watching for the doctor. Those were dark hours. But then a nurse came and took me to you. When I held you that first time, you opened your eyes and looked into mine. Big green eyes. Verde. Just like the parrot. And I knew we had met before. My Verdita.”Sleep washed over me like one of the waves on Papi’s dream beach, soft and soundless.

Editorial Reviews

This touching coming-of-age debut novel transcends borders and times. Readers will laugh and cry along with Verdita as she navigates a tumultuous adolescence, easily identifying with her problems and struggles. As a result, the novel will appeal to a wide range of readers, and the addition of discussion questions is a plus for book groups." - Library Journal review "The book is ripe with the lush island's landscape, culture, and foods, as well as the political upheaval of the 1960s. Verdita's experience, though, is universal, as she must reconcile both the passion she witnesses and the changes in her own body with a child's perspective of the world. McCoy's intoxicating novel is perfect for multicultural literature classes and best compares with Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street (Knopf, 1994) and Julia Alvarez's How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (Penguin, 1992)." - School Library Journal review “Beautiful…steeped in Puerto Rican culture and rich in authentic detail, McCoy’s debut captures the essence of life in Puerto Rico.”  - Booklist"McCoy's lyrical writing is absorbing" - Publishers Weekly review "Sarah McCoy tells a story of magic, myth, and mystery amid political and cultural unrest. You can't help loving Verdita, the world she comes from and the world she yearns for. A delightful debut by a promising and saucy new writer." - Sheri Reynolds, author of A Gracious Plenty and Oprah's Book Club Rapture of Canaan "Like snow in Puerto Rico, this novel is a rare pleasure. A sparkling debut by a writer who possesses a feel for place and time, a sense of the sacrifices love calls us to, and an uncommon talent for mapping the territory of the heart." - Janet Peery, author of Alligator Dance and National Book Award Finalist The River Beyond the World "Sarah McCoy has written a story so replete with sensuality, so infused with love and community, so exquisitely observant and poetic, the reader can only wish for a package tour to the dream that is Verdita's life." - Sandra Scofield, author of Occasions of Sin and National Book Award Finalist Beyond DeservingFrom the Hardcover edition.