From award-winning author Pablo Cartaya comes a deeply moving middle grade novel about a daughter and father finding their way back to each other in the face of their changing family and community.
Emilia Torres has a wandering mind. It's hard for her to follow along at school, and sometimes she forgets to do what her mom or abuela asks. But she remembers what matters: a time when her family was whole and home made sense. When Dad returns from deployment, Emilia expects that her life will get back to normal. Instead, it unravels.
Dad shuts himself in the back stall of their family's auto shop to work on an old car. Emilia peeks in on him daily, mesmerized by his welder. One day, Dad calls Emilia over. Then, he teaches her how to weld. And over time, flickers of her old dad reappear.
But as Emilia finds a way to repair the relationship with her father at home, her community ruptures with some of her classmates, like her best friend, Gus, at the center of the conflict.
Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya is a tender story about asking big questions and being brave enough to reckon with the answers.
Tension ignites in this layered, culturally rich novel set in an Atlanta suburb when Cuban-American Emilia's software developer mother leaves on a business trip just as her father returns from military deployment. Cartaya (Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish) sensitively portrays how this upheaval amplifies the 12-year-old's Inattentive Type ADHD without her mother's support, Emilia struggles to cope with assignments, friendships, and devoted but controlling Abuela. Amid this turmoil, Emilia and her father bond over welding, but the girl doesn't comprehend his mood swings, which she gradually comes to understand as PTSD. Cartaya deftly sketches her family's variable takes on Emilia's heritage her abuela touts their European roots and Emilia's fair skin, while her mother highlights her Yoruba ancestry and seamlessly weaves Spanish into the narrative. As a school project awakens Emilia's awareness of her town, she takes an interest in timely immigration issues as well as economic and racial prejudices around proposed school redistricting, and she comes to recognize and confront a friend's bigotry. The narrative appropriately tackles tough topics with grace through the lens of this memorable heroine. Ages 10 up.