The Smell of Old Lady Perfume
The Smell of Old Lady Perfume
Cinco Puntos Press, Hardcover, 9781933693187, 249pp.
Publication Date: July 1, 2008
Claudia Guadalupe Martinez's debut novel for young adults is a bittersweet story about death, family, and the resilient emotional strength of the human heart. Chela Gonzalez, the book's narrator, is a nerd and a soccer player who can barely contain her excitement about starting the sixth grade. But nothing is as she imagined--her best friend turns on her to join the popular girls and they all act like Chela doesn't exist. She buries herself in schoolwork and in the warm comfort of her family. To Chela, her family is like a solar system, with her father the sun and her mother, brothers, and sister like planets rotating all around him. It's a small world, but it's the only one she fits in.
But that universe is threatened when her strong father has a stroke. Chela's grandmother moves in to help the family. The smell of her old lady perfume invades the house. That smell is worse than Sundays. Sundays were sad, but they went just as sure as they came. Death was a whole other thing, and Chela doesn't understand that's what everyone is waiting for. In her grief and worry, Chela begins to discover herself and find her own strength.
Claudia Guadalupe Martinez was born in El Paso, Texas. She learned that letters form words from reading the subtitles of old Westerns for her father. She went on to graduate from college and moved to Chicago to become one of the city's youngest nonprofit executives.
"Martinez’[s] highly episodic first novel is a quiet story that is filled with such coming-of-age staples as mean girls, popularity contests, first romances, sibling rivalries, and more. However, readers will also find the book’s loving portrayal of Chela’s family, its nicely realized setting, and its artful exploration of the problems of assimilation to be both engaging and heartfelt." —Booklist
"This is a sweet coming-of-age story, telling of the cruelties of children toward one another and dealing with the loss of a parent. The story should appeal to readers dealing with their own tween years." —School Library Journal
"The balance of life on the border of Mexico and Texas is lightly sketched but sure-handed; occasional Spanish phrases and the sense of family and community come through. "—Kirkus Reviews
"Setting her story in El Paso, Claudia Guadalupe Martinez gives us the gift of a real world, filled with authentic kids and family dynamics…Martinez’s prose, always animated and descriptive, is frequently quite beautiful. She is an author to watch." —Southwest Books of the Year 2008
"The Smell of Old Lady Perfume is a touching story that will teach lessons on loss, family, loneliness, and the importance of being oneself…The novel’s easy language reads like genuine narration from a sixth grader and complements the story’s complex themes" —ForeWord Magazine
"This sensitively-written novel provides unique insights into a bicultural family." —Children's Literature
"While Spanish words are interspersed with English, there are not so many that the book is difficult to read for a non-Spanish speaking person but just enough to actualize the Hispanic culture in Chela's home life and the circumstances of a bilingual student in an English-speaking school environment." —ALAN's Picks
"The original title gives a glimpse of the poetic lines peppered throughout this poignant debut." —Latinidad's Best of 2008
"I discovered I could relate to Chela's isolation at school, as well as her worries about her family…The book flows easily; this is a story that seems to be told by a person still experiencing these things…The Smell of Old Lady Perfume is a story about growing up, about seeing things in a different light." —San Antonio Express-News
"Martínez has crafted a beautiful and heartfelt journey of a girl who 'wasn't supposed to see' so much, but who 'saw all kinds of things.' Young readers, especially those navigating difficult issues such as poverty, illness, isolation, depression and death, will find a friend in Chela Gonzalez, a typical sixth-grader who learns to find strength from within in order to transcend the many troubles outside her control." —El Paso Times
"It's the first book by author Claudia Martinez, and one can hope that there are more to come… The Smell of Old Lady Perfume is the story of a young girl trying to find her way as life around her changes and she is powerless to control the changes. Love triumphs all and Chela learns that the love of family is something that never changes." —Chicago Young Adult Fiction Examiner
"In her poignant first novel, Martinez encompasses the pains of school, the loss of friends, and most importantly the library collection masterfully discusses the power of smell and how it can evoke strong emotions and memories. Tweens will easily relate to Chela’s struggles and triumphs, particularly immigrant tweens. Highly Recommended." —REFORMA Newsletter
"[Smell of Old Lady Perfume] is a melodic and melancholy tale of a girl’s sixth-grade year." —El Paso Scene