La chica nueva

Book Title La chica nueva (The New Girl)
Author(s) Jennifer Degenhardt 
Illustrator(s) Elisha Ghaloo
Other Contributors
Published by Self-published
Genre Romance
Publication date 2018
#Ownvoices No
From the author/publisher’s website
Level 1

Total Word Count

Illustrations                 NO 
Glossary                     YES 
Guiding Questions     NO  
Context                        NO

Races, Ethnicities, and Nationalities
United States

Languages spoken

Sex and Genders

Teenager: 13-18
Mid-life Adult: 35-65

Social classes
Working class
Upper class

Sexual Orientation

(Dis)Abilities and Neurotypes

Religions, Syncretism, and Spirituality
None mentioned

Relationship and Family Structures
Heteroparental relationships
Mentions of extended family

Body Descriptions

From the author/publisher’s website 

Taruka is the new girl at the high school in town. The story takes the reader through a year of high school that Taruka is not likely to forget. She makes friends and meets a boy, Cooper. Like Cooper and many of the students at the school Taruka is very involved in sports, so she gets along with her new classmates well. But issues arise with her newfound friendship with Cooper when their differences are highlighted by the adults in their lives. This book is intended as a reader for students learning Spanish. While the story has a plot similar to the classic story of Romeo and Juliet or Tony and Maria, the vocabulary and grammar are simple and comprehensible even for those just beginning with Spanish. Teachers: this is a level 1 book.
To what extent do the illustrations present positive and thoughtful representations of identities?

The only illustration in the book is the cover art. There we see a dark-skinned, teenaged girl with long, straight, dark hair wearing a purple sweater, dark pants, and gym shoes. We also see a light-skinned, teenaged boy with short, straight, blond hair wearing a blue sweater, blue jeans, and gym shoes. In the background, there is a building that could be their high school. The girl looks like she is timid and afraid because her eyes are closed and she is curled in a fetal position. The young boy looks relaxed and at ease with his eyes wide open, a slight smile, and hands in his sweater pocket.

It is surprising that the cover art shows the girl looking timid and curled in a fetal position, because nowhere in the story is she described this way.
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?

– Characters of color are assumed to have low family wealth, low educational attainment and/or low income.
– Characters of diverse backgrounds are represented stereotypically, or presented as foreign or exotic or are tokenized. (microaggressions)
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

Identity: Promote a healthy self-concept and exploration of identity
Diversity: Foster intergroup understanding
Justice: Raise awareness of prejudice and injustice
Action: Motivate students to act by highlighting individual and collective struggles against injustice

La chica nueva is an easy-to-read, short love story about two high school students in Douglaston, Connecticut, USA. Taruka is the new girl at Douglaston High School and is from Bolivia. As she gets settled in her new town, she meets people at her school and through her job at the Greasy Spoon restaurant. She also joins the soccer team. Meanwhile, Cooper is from Douglaston and is described as the most popular, intelligent, and handsome student at the high school. Cooper and Taruka strike up a friendship and a romance, despite their parents’ disapproval.

In the story, Taruka meets many new people around town and in school. The people of Douglaston and the students of Douglaston High School engage Taruka and introduce themselves to her. In the interactions, the students recognize and acknowledge the unique identities of each other and of Taruka. Taruka also expresses pride and confidence in her heritage when meeting people for the first time in her new town. For example, when Taruka meets people in her new town and school, she introduces her name and explains the Quechua origin of her name: “–Hola Taruka. Tu nombre es muy interesante. Me gusta –Gracias. Es un nombre quechua. Mis padres son de Bolivia. Soy boliviana también. / ‘Hello Taruka. Your name is very interesting. I like it.’ ‘Thanks. It’s a Quechua name. My parents are from Bolivia. I’m Bolivian, too’” (p. 18).

When respectfully asked, Taruka also clearly explains what Quechua is to her new friends: “–¿Qué es quechua?– pregunta Cooper. –Quechua es un grupo de personas indígenas de origen Inca en Bolivia y Perú. Para muchos indígenas en Bolivia es su primera lengua. / “‘What is Quechua?’ Cooper asks. ‘Quechua is a group of indigenous people of Inca origin in Bolivia and Peru. For many indigenous people in Bolivia, it’s their first language’” (p. 23).

The story fosters intergroup understanding by expressing comfort with people who are both similar to and different from them, and engaging respectfully with all people. For example, both Taruka and Cooper are introduced as main characters and their differences are described in respectful ways: “Yo me llamo Cooper y tengo 17 años. Yo soy de Douglaston, Connecticut. / I am Cooper and am 17 years old. I am from Douglaston, Connecticut”; “Me llamo Taruka y tengo diez y seis (16) años. Soy de Bolivia, pero ahora vivo en Douglaston / My name is Taruka and I am 16 years old. I am from Bolivia, but I now live in Douglaston” (pp. 1-3).

Through these examples in the story, students may develop language and knowledge to accurately and respectfully describe how people (including themselves) are both similar to and different from each other and others in their identity groups.

The text does not indicate whether anyone Quechua from Bolivia was consulted regarding the cultural and linguistic representations in the book.

Cooper’s parents do not approve of their relationship. When Cooper’s parents meet Taruka at the Greasy Spoon restaurant where she is employed, they tell Cooper that there will be “problems.” Cooper stands up against his parents and recognizes their prejudice: “–Tu amiga es muy morena, dice mi mamá. –Sí, Coop. No necesitas problemas. –¿Problemas? ¿Problemas? Taruka es mi novia y no es un problema. –Cooper. Tú no eres de la clase social de ella. Tú necesitas salir con otra clase de chica. / ‘Your friend is very dark,’ my mom says. ‘Yes, Coop. You don’t need problems.’ ‘Problems? Problems? Taruka is my girlfriend and it’s not a problem.’ ‘Cooper. You are not from her social class. You need to go out with another type of girl’” (p. 42).

Later in the story, Cooper has a conversation with his parents about why they don’t approve of his relationship with Taruka. His parents indicate that the town doesn’t like “different” people and that the town “talks”: “Las personas de este pueblo hablan mucho / The people of this town talk a lot. … Al pueblo no le gustan las personas diferentes. / The town doesn’t like different people” (p. 47).

After Cooper’s parents express their prejudice against Taruka for being dark-skinned and of a different class than them, Cooper explains: “Pero, Mamá, Papá, Taruka es una persona. Sí, es diferente, pero es una buena persona. Y, en mi opinión es necesario ser simpático con TODAS las personas / But Mom, Dad, Taruka is a person. Yes, she is different, but she is a good person. And, in my opinion it is necessary to be nice to ALL people” (p. 47). This provides an example on how a person can respond to injustice because of a difference in race or class.

It is surprising that the young girl looks timid and in the fetal position on the cover because nowhere in the story is she described this way. Instead, Taruka is forthright and outgoing with her new friends and teachers. She introduces herself with confidence and is not shy about her cultural background.

After Cooper’s parents say racist comments about Taruka, Cooper defends her, and his parents respond with a superficial and oversimplified response. Cooper’s dad says “Tú tienes razón. Las personas son personas primero. No importan las diferencias. / You are right. People are people first. The differences don’t matter” (p. 48). This response is oversimplified for level 1 Spanish students and is an example of “I don’t see color”. The change of heart from the parents was quick and easy from their original racist comments. It is also worth noting that neither set of parents approve of their kids’ relationship; Cooper’s parents’ disapproval stems from racism, while Taruka’s parents’ disapproval stems from a newspaper article labeling Cooper as a thief. These are not the same thing. Cooper’s parents disapprove based on who Taruka is (a dark-skinned, working-class immigrant) while Taruka’s parents disapprove based on something that Cooper has done (stealing something).

Taruka’s parents both have jobs that are stereotypically held by Hispanic or Latinx immigrants. Taruka’s mother cleans houses and her father works in construction: “Mi padre trabaja para una compañía de construcción que se llama ME Construcción. … Mi madre limpia las casas de las familias en Westmoreland. / My dad works for a construction company that is named ME Construction… My mom cleans houses for families in Westmoreland” (p. 5).

The characters in the story are also depicted as having stereotypical gender roles. For example, in Cooper’s family, his father works at a bank and his mother does philanthropy: “Mi papá trabaja en un banco en la ciudad de Nueva York. Mi mamá no trabaja, pero es voluntaria en muchas actividades. / My dad works in a bank in New York City. My mom doesn’t work, but volunteers for many activities” (p. 2). Additionally, Cooper and his male friends go to one of their homes to watch a professional soccer game on television; meanwhile, even though Taruka and her female friends are also interested in soccer (they’re all on the school’s soccer team), they go shopping at the mall: “Todos los chicos van a la casa de Kyle esta noche para mirar un partido de fútbol. Emily, Caroline y yo [Taruka] no queremos ir, entonces vamos de compras al centro comercial. / All of the boys are going to Kyle’s house tonight to watch the soccer game. Emily, Caroline and I don’t want to go, so we’re going shopping at the mall” (p. 34).

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