It is 1961 and Puerto Rico is trapped in a tug-of-war between those who want to stay connected to the United States and those who are fighting for independence. For eleven-year-old Verdita Ortiz-Santiago, the struggle for independence is a battle fought much closer to home.
Verdita has always been safe and secure in her sleepy mountain town, far from the excitement of the capital city of San Juan or the glittering shores of the United States, where her older cousin lives. She will be a señorita soon, which, as her mother reminds her, means that she will be expected to cook and clean, go to Mass every day, choose arroz con pollo over hamburguesas, and give up her love for Elvis. And yet, as much as Verdita longs to escape this seemingly inevitable future and become a blond American bombshell, she is still a young girl who is scared by late-night stories of the chupacabra, who wishes her mother would still rub her back and sing her a lullaby, and who is both ashamed and exhilarated by her changing body.
Told in luminous prose spanning two years in Verdita’s life, The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico is much more than a story about getting older. In the tradition of The House on Mango Street and Annie John, it is about the struggle to break free from the people who have raised us, and about the difficulties of leaving behind one's homeland for places unknown. At times joyous and at times heartbreaking, Verdita’s story is of a young girl discovering her power and finding the strength to decide what sort of woman she’ll become.
McCoy's unaffected, conversational debut sketches a year and a half in the life of Verdita Ortiz-Santiago, a Puerto Rican girl whose fascination with America overshadows her quiet life. The book opens in 1961, with Verdita's 11th birthday party, perhaps her last occasion of guileless joy. An indulged only child, Verdita gets a shock when, a few months later, she learns that her parents are expecting a baby: I hated it, the baby.... And I despised them for making it. Her fears that the baby will be a boy force her to confront the deeply patriarchal society in which she lives; she also uses the opportunity, in a more typical fashion, to aim all her anger and confusion at her mother (proud of her growing breasts, she's also ashamed of becoming more like Mama ). Though McCoy's lyrical writing is absorbing, Verdita's trials are largely unexceptional (including a disastrous attempt to go blonde and taking on more responsibility, especially after the baby's birth), and her parents are underdeveloped, making this coming-of-age story a slight addition to the crowded genre.