Title: The Tequila Worm | Author: Viola Canales | Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books | Date of Publication: 2005 | ISBN: 0-385-74674-1 |Number of pages: 176 | Grade Level: 7+ | Literary Trends: Spotlight on Diversity, Tough Girls, Bullying
Canales, V. (2005). The Tequila Worm. New York, NY: Wendy Lamb Books.
Viola Canales’s book takes young Sofia, on a trip from girlhood to the ultimate Sisterhood in Mexican-American society, becoming a Comadre. Instead of traveling pants however, there are mezcal soaked worms, frozen tamales, raw bars of chocolate, mamá’s émpanadas and tía’s plastic wrapped furniture. Despite the potentially embarrassing nature of some of the special delicacies of Mexican culture, Sofia learns early to be proud of the quirks that come with her heritage and you can almost hear the moment when she says ¡Ya! (enough) to the school bully who called her Tacohead. Of course, just when Sofia has taken a firm grasp of her culture and reality, she is offered a full scholarship to an elite private school 300 hundred miles away from her home and family. As she grasps with the decision to even tell her mother and father about the scholarship, her contemporaries begin to focus on the biggest day of their lives, their Quinceañeras, not that Sofia is the type to concern herself with her own coming of age party.
The Tequila Worm brings readers into the world of deep Mexican American culture. Set in the southernmost U.S./Mexican border town of McAllen, Texas, the text reinforces the cultural fusion of the area with its informative code-switching literary style and border-crossing ethos. It is this lifestyle and mindset that is reinforced by Sofia’s elders that eventually provides the supportive push towards a life of academia, but with her heart firmly planted in ground where her family and culture rests.
In The Tequila Worm, Sofia and her Mexican classmates at private school travel long distances back and forth between school and home during school breaks, often with only a few days to spare before they are whisked back into their intense studies. The dedication to family and work that the book portrays echoes the similar struggle of the migrant worker in the South West, often traveling back and forth between work and family; it especially reflects on the legacy of the Bracero guest worker program that called thousands of able bodied Mexican men to temporary work in the United States from 1942 to 1964.
School Library Journal describes The Tequila Worm as an “engaging and easy to read… good choice for reluctant readers” and Booklist explains that Canales’s text is like listening in on “a good anecdote shared between friends.” Both observations, offer a great indication that this book has a purpose beyond capturing a slice of life, but rather that it is meant to reinforce the value of storytelling, especially oral histories that are passed from one generation to the next. Reluctant readers, especially those with similar backgrounds as Sofia and her friends, will have likely heard amazing cuentos growing up and having them represented in this book is a great pathway to learning more about the literary value of storytelling in Mexican American Culture.