Random House; hardcover: 336 pages, $27.95; also available in trade paperback $15.95 and as an ebook: $13.99
It’s the ultimate American cliche: through hard work and determination, a poor Latina rises out of Bronx public housing and beats the odds to attend not one, but two Ivy League institutions , to ultimately take a seat on the highest court in the land.
But there is nothing trite about this autobiography. It is as well written and engaging as it is poignant and inspiring. Sotomayor doesn’t just invite readers into her childhood; she recreates it. Reading it is living it.
Early on, Sotomayor learns that she has to rely on herself, that most of the grown-ups in her life, though they may love her, lack the ability to care for her. Opening pages introduce a seven-year old forced to administer her own insulin shots because neither of her parents seem capable.
Throughout this erratic childhood surrounded by street dangers, Sotomayor creates her own reality inspired by Perry Mason and strengthened by a special relationship with abuelita. She overcomes not just the poverty of the Bronx, but her own insecurities. She resolves to over-prepare and perhaps to over-achieve.
The book ends well before Sotomayor robes for her first Monday in October and has been called a “coming of age” book. I would just call it a good read.
NOTE: It is worth mentioning that I used a section from the book with 8th graders during our autobiography unit to underscore the importance of–as Sotomayor says– “…that in order to thrive, a child must have at least one adult in her life who shows her unconditional love, respect, and confidence.”