Book Title Elena
Author(s) Bill VanPatten
Other Contributors
Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Genre Realistic fiction
Publication date 2017
#Ownvoices No

From the author/publisher’s website
Level Intermediate

Total Word Count

Illustrations                    YES 
Glossary                          NO  
Guiding Questions       NO  
Context                            YES  

Races, Ethnicities, and Nationalities
The race and ethnicity of the characters are never identified but clues seem to indicate they may be Mexican-American.

Languages spoken

Sex and Genders


Social classes
Middle Class
Sexual Orientation
Homosexual – secondary character


Catholicism – the main character’s relationship with a priest seems to indicate she is catholic.

Family Structures

Body Type
From the author/publisher’s website 

Elena is a seventeen-year old girl who claims to hear the Virgin’s voice. Concerned, her parents and priest think it’s wise to put her under psychiatric care. But does Elena really belong in a clinic? As in VanPatten’s first story, “Ángel”, this story defies stereotypes and takes us into the mind of an intelligent teenager. “Elena” is a story that hits all the right notes for students of Spanish, consisting of nine segments plus a short prologue and a short epilogue. It is just the right length for students of intermediate Spanish.

To what extent do the illustrations present positive and thoughtful representations of identities?

The illustrations are limited to the markings on the main character’s body. No other relevant illustrations are shown.

We understand identities are complex and no single story represents the spectrum of identity-based experiences. Also, a text may address a stereotype, misrepresentation, or generalization without relying on it.

Does any stereotype, misrepresentation, or generalization affect any positive and thoughtful representations of identities in the text?
This section is for teachers who are working towards sourcing more texts within the four domains of anti-bias education. We are excited about reading all books and we understand that not all books are written for this specific purpose. 

Does this text work toward goals within any of the four domains of anti-bias education as defined by Teaching Tolerance
Diversity: Foster intergroup understanding
Justice: Raise awareness of prejudice and injustice

Readers need to be aware of the mentions of body cutting and the real possibility of triggering situations. 

Elena is a short story consisting of “segments” of a timeline from May 31st to June 24th. The main character, Elena, is a very passionate and self-driven seventeen-year adolescent who narrates her story in the first person. The text does incorporate various grammar contrasts such as preterite vs imperfect, and it is very rich and varied in adjectives for a clearer understanding of the context.

The description of the book’s other characters seems to indicate that Elena may come from middle class. Both Elena’s parents are very conservative, and she has two siblings, one identifies as gay, and the other as a military. The assumption of the middle class family may be because Elena can afford therapy, which in the U.S. may be perceived as a costly treatment and only affordable to middle/high class families. Furthermore, Elena seems to be inspired by her devotion to animals, and has a religious affinity with Saint Francis of Assissi, as well as the Virgin. Elena does not state what virgin she is talking about, but it is inferred it is “Virgen de Guadalupe” due to her family background in New Mexico.

The book covers the topic of body modifications that, in Elena’s eyes, are “marks”. But for her parents, psychologist, and priest, these marks are “cuts” that trigger a genuine concern about Elena’s well-being. The author clearly states at the very beginning that “this is a work of fiction, and the names, characters, situations are merely from the author’s imagination or used fictitiously”. However, teachers should be aware that the book makes several references to body modifications such as tattoo, marking/cutting, and that it may be a triggering text. Unfortunately, there is no trigger warning at the beginning of the book.

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