Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Year of Our Revolution: New and Selected Stories and Poems, by Judith Ortiz Cofer

The Year of Our Revolution: New and Selected Stories and Poems (1998) is a collection of stories and poems in which writer Judith Ortiz Cofer describes growing up in Puerto Rico and Paterson, New Jersey, during the 1950s and 60s. Although the narratives seem loosely based on her own life and family, her main character is named Mary Ellen, or Maria Elenita. Cofer has often written about her childhood in Puerto Rico and New Jersey, about her sometimes difficult experiences living and adjusting to a bi-cultural life, moving back and forth between "the Island" and New Jersey, of the father who is firmly committed to staying in the States (but who never quite says so) and the mother who dreams of returning to the island. Cofer's most distinctive treatments of this subject are her 1989 novel The Line of the Sun and the stories and essays of Silent Dancing (1990) and The Latin Deli (1993). It is also a central theme of her poetry.

What sets this collection off from her other work is Cofer's placement of the coming of age experience during the decade of the 1960s. The 60s was a decade of popular culture, music, revolutionary fervor, sexual awakening, and a deepening rift between older and younger generations. Cofer interweaves all these themes into the life and experiences the book records. Mary Ellen's coming of age involves not only a growing assertion of independence from her parents, a gradually developing assertion of identity as an individual, but a gradual movement towards American selfhood and a loss of Puerto Rican culture.

This book seems written for a young adult audience—Cofer relates in these stories the experiences of a young girl ranging in age from four or five to late adolescence. As a result the stories offer much that many adolescents would identify with.

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