Fama va en Californie

Book Title Fama va en Californie
(Fama goes to California)
Author(s) Blaine Ray
Illustrator(s) Andrés Felipe Ramírez Cervantes
Other Contributors Nataly Valencia Bula
Published by TPRS Books (view our statement on TPRS Books)
Genre Realistic Fiction
Publication date 2017
#Ownvoices NO
From the author/publisher’s website
Level 2

Total Word Count

Illustrations                    YES 
Glossary                          YES  
Guiding Questions       NO  
Context                            NO
Other                                N/A

Races, Ethnicities, and Nationalities
Black, Mauritanian
white, American

Languages spoken

Sex and Genders
Female – main character


Social classes
Middle Class
Upper Class
Sexual Orientation



Family Structures

Body Type

From the author/publisher’s website 

Fama is a 15-year old girl from Mauritania who goes to California as an exchange student. She lives with a caring American family but encounters prejudice at school- especially from a girl named Debbie. By chance Fama finds Debbie in a dangerous situation. She acts quickly and decisively to rescue her. This incident and what happens afterwards profoundly affect both girls.

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

The characters’ skin color is representative of their race. 


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?

1. Characters of diverse backgrounds are represented stereotypically, or presented as foreign or exotic or are tokenized. (microaggressions)
2. racism is not addressed.
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 Learning for Justice

This review is in regards to the second-edition of Fama va en Californie, and it is a story of a 15-year-old teenage girl’s journey from her home in Mauritania to study a year in Los Angeles, CA, USA, where she gets to experience life as an American student and all that comes with it. While she does make friends and has a great home-stay with an American family, she runs into racial conflict with an American teenage girl that does not like her due to her being Black. The author has described this story as being suited for levels 1 and 2, which seemed an appropriate designation. 

When the book was updated in 2017, some illustrations were added that attempt to represent the beauty of Mauritanian landscapes and the Mauritanian communities.

This book frames Mauritania and Mauritanians within a deficit lens of miserabilism. Mauritanians are indeed categorized as a homogeneous community mired in poverty (‘’Les Mauritaniens n’ont pas beaucoup de biens matériel” – not many material goods – p.2-3, ‘’La Mauritanie est un pays très pauvre’’ – a very poor country – p. 3, “beaucoup d’enfants à Boghé n’ont pas de chaussures – don’t have shoes -, “les filles ont un chemisier ou deux” – girls have one or two shirts- p.3), lack of education (‘’Beaucoup d’enfants n’ont pas la possibilité d’aller à l’école” – don’t have the opportunity to go to school -p. 3), and access (‘’Ces enfants ont besoin d’aider leur famille’’ – these children must help their families – p. 3). 

On her first day of school in the city of Ventura, CA, Fama faces the racism and islamophobia of a white student, Debbie Martin, who screams at her that they are too many African-Americans in the US and that another African-American is not needed especially a Muslim one (p. 30).

Not only Fama has to endure the racist comments of this white American classmate, but she is also gaslighted by her American family who tells her that what she has been through is nothing (‘’Ce n’est rien’’ – it’s nothing – p. 31) and that she should hang out with nicer people (‘’Parle avec les élèves qui sont gentils’’ – talk with students who are nicer – p. 31). In other words, racism is whitewashed, Fama’s emotions are ignored, and her American family is complicit by staying silent and neutral. This complicity is prevalent throughout the book. Fama is at the restaurant with Diane and Lisa who do not say a word when Debbie and her friends scream out loud that they don’t want to eat in a restaurant with the presence of African-American people (‘’Je n’aime pas les Afro-Américains! Allons-nous-en!’’ – I don;t like African Americans, let’s go -p. 37).

Debbie is a heinous and racist character who will finally see Fama’s humanity when the latter will save her from a thief who points a gun at her. In other words, the book makes all the racist attacks against Fama disappear with the wave of a magic wand by condoning Debbie’s behavior who has issues at home and at school (‘’Je ne sais pas pourquoi je te parle mal. J’ai des problèmes avec ma famille. J’ai des problèmes avec l’école” – I don’t know why I speak so hill (of you). I have trouble with my family. I have trouble with school – p. 43. Racism is pathologized as a mood swing (”Généralement, je ne suis pas une personne méchante” – usually I am not a mean person – p. 43). 

If the book is used as a class novel, then the teacher needs to be ready to mitigate this, help students name Debbie’s actions, and have a good discussion. However, if the book is sitting in a classroom library for free-choice reading, then students don’t get a chance to discuss and name what they read.

At the end of the book, Debbie ends up going to Mauritania with Fama, and she compares her house with Fama’s house: Debbie compares her house to this house. Her house is like a palace, but Debbie knows that is not important. Debbie knows that having material goods does not make people happy. There are lots of people in the USA who have a lot and are not happy. Debbie sees a different way of living: they give more importance to people than things in Mauritania (p. 50). Debbie tells Fama “J’aime les Africains, mais j’aime surtout les Mauritaniennes” – I love Africans, but above all I love Mauritanian women – (p. 62-63). These kinds of sweeping generalizations (“I love Africans” and Mauritanians are “poor but happy”) and using any culture to absolve one’s guilt over one’s material possession is not a thoughtful representation of Mauritanian culture. This is an example of instrumentalization, where people and cultures are served to fulfill the self-actualization needs of the white protagonist. 

View our statement on TPRS Books

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