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Cinnamon Girl: letters found inside a cereal box    by Juan Felipe Herrera order for
Cinnamon Girl
by Juan Felipe Herrera
Order:  USA  Can
HarperTempest, 2005 (2005)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

9/11/2001 was a day that went topsy-turvy, not just for residents of New York City, but for the world. It is the fall of the World Trade Center Towers, Lower West Side Manhattan, that Juan Felipe Herrera sets amidst emotional despair, in a combination of verse, conversations, notes, and letters. Yolanda Maria from the Lower East Side proclaims her 'manda' (promise) to collect as much dust as she can, for the voices within. I may not understand every line, but I grasped enough to recognize Herrera as an extraordinary voice.

Yolanda's story begins, 'IV and blood bottle lines tangle / down to uncle DJ's arm ... swallowed enough dust-- / two buildings of dust, Twin Towers of dust ... Last night I dreamt / I went with Mama and Tia Gladys to Ground Zero. / Tia Gladys digs ... A police dog barks and digs--digs too ... A moan. A long moan / from underground. Echoes up Canal Street to Chambers.' Through the author's expressive words, Yolanda goes back to the year before 2001, to the months and weeks prior to 9/11, and the days thereafter with relatives and friends. Uncle DJ called her Carnelita, telling her of his job at 'Rosie's Roses back in Nueva York'. Uncle told Carnelita in letters of his hopes to some day build a recording studio, RadioSabor. She goes to DJ's bedside and whispers, 'This is Yolanda, your cinnamon girl'. Yolanda despairs as to why uncle had to deliver flowers that morning to the Towers - 'men in yellow raincoats / and orange striped vests, / steel hats, buckets / of ashes, wires and dirt, FDNY and NYPD ... and sirens fading in and / out'.

Herrera's words are a shot of adrenaline, a song whose rhythm surrounds mind, heart, and soul. He relates to his culture in powerful, image driven Latino poetry. He has been awarded the Ezra Keats Award, and his book, The Upside-Down Boy, is a Smithsonian Notable book for Children.

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