Alicia: La lista

Book Title Alicia: La lista
Author(s) Cécile Lainé
Illustrator(s) Jennifer Nolasco
Other Contributors translated and adapted by Claudia Rodriguez with contributions from author’s husband, Stephen DeCastro, whom the author thanks for ensuring the characters sound Costa Rican (p. i).
Published by Toward Proficiency
Genre Realistic Fiction
Publication date 2019
#Ownvoices No
From the author/publisher’s website
Level 2/3

Total Word Count
4,000 words – 300 headwords

Illustrations                 YES 
Glossary                     YES 
Guiding Questions     NO  
Context                        YES

Races, Ethnicities, and Nationalities
Costa Rican/Tico

Languages spoken

Sex and Genders

Child: 6-12
Teenager: 13-18
Mid-life Adult: 35-65

Social classes
Working class
Middle class
Sexual Orientation

(Dis)Abilities and Neurotypes
No (dis)abilities or neurotypes mentioned in the text

Religions, Syncretism, and Spirituality
A church is referenced in the text

Relationship and Family Structures
Multiparental: Protagonist lives with mother and is moving into the city to live with father and father’s wife

Body Descriptions
The book focuses on the athletic and physical strength of the protagonist.
From the author/publisher’s website 

When Alicia, a girl who lives in the town of Liberia, Costa Rica, finds out she and her family are moving to San José in a month, she is far from happy. Her friend suggests she make a list of the most important things she wants to accomplish before she leaves. Alicia writes four items on her list and sets off on a quest to discover what truly matters to her.
To what extent do the illustrations present positive and thoughtful representations of identities?

When the character Rafa, who is Nicaraguan, is racially harassed in the park by an unknown man, there is no indication in the illustration of how the harasser would have been able to physically identify Rafa as Nicaraguan (p. 28).
The illustrations are done in black and white monochrome line drawings. These are sometimes shaded with grey–for instance, for clothing or hair color–but there is no shading to indicate skin tones; all the characters thus appear uniformly White. However, the author has made available supplemental materials for this book on her website which include full-color illustrations; in these illustrations, the skin color of characters is visible and varied.

The illustrations depict both curly and straight hair on characters, as well as darker and lighter hair colors, which could represent cultural or ethnic identities.
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?

Social situations and problems are seen as individual problems, not situated within a societal context. → The story presents racism not as a system of microaggressions and policies, but as isolated acts by bigoted individuals, such as the harassment the character Rafa receives on pp. 28-29.
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

Content Warning: Teachers may wish to provide a disclaimer to students regarding a part of the text that presents a racial slur towards the character Rafa, and it may cause discomfort for some marginalized or non-marginalized students. Note that the racial slur is bold in the text to indicate that it’s defined at the bottom of the page and in the glossary; the bold text may create a heightened emotional impact, on top of the offensive comment (p. 28).

Alicia: la Lista centers on Alicia, a teenage girl in Costa Rica, who in preparation for an upcoming move to San José sets goals for herself to attain, which include relational as well as athletic goals. The book centers on Alicia’s empowerment, in the context of her relationships with friends and family, as she overcomes obstacles while striving to realize these goals.

Alicia: la lista portrays a female character, Alicia, who is physically and socially strong. She can empathize with her friends, while also being self reflective with how she plays her part in creating conflict with them. She displays her honesty about her own needs and desires, despite confrontation. “Hoy prefiero estar con Rafa. Prefiero empezar una relación con Rafa en lugar de consolidar mi relación con mis mejores amigas / Today I prefer to be with Rafa. I prefer to begin a relationship with Rafa instead of strengthening my relationship with my best friends” (p. 25).

The protagonist refers to “la esposa de mi papá / my father’s wife” (p. 2) instead of “my stepmother.” This reflects her agency in deciding how to refer to her relationship with family members.

The story shows a closeness among Alicia’s family and friends. For instance, her little brother encourages her: “Hermana, usted es súper fuerte / Sister, you are really strong” (p. 36). This support is reciprocal as she says, “Estoy feliz de que haya venido Marcela, es importante para mí / I’m happy that Marcela has come, it’s important to me” (p. 36). Her family and friends share in this reciprocal support as they show up to her taekwondo competition, and those who can’t come are texting her even despite relational conflict. This shows a set of community values in contrast with the hyper-individualism found in some cultures.

The story shares local colloquial expressions and sayings throughout: “Pura Vida”; “Tuanis” / Everything is cool; Awesome” (pp. 18, 20). Regional expressions differ depending on social class and status, which could be why these young characters use them often.

There are two organizations that are mentioned in the story, Cenderos and Wild Soul Project. Cenderos seems to be a locally-led organization, as mentioned by Rafa: “Es por eso que las organizaciones como Cenderos son tan importantes: trabajan por la defensa de los derechos humanos de los migrantes refugiados/It’s because of this that the organizations like Cenderos are so important: they work for the defense of the human rights of the refugee migrants” (p. 20). This is helpful for readers to see an organization that is established by locals for migrants in the country. Wild Soul Project is also a local Costa Rican organization. The text does not specify this, so readers may not know unless they do their own research.This can bring up thoughtful conversations in the classroom about not essentializing languages by assuming that just because a name is in English, it must come from English-dominant culture.

In the story, racism is displayed as a single act between one person towards another. It is demonstrated in the confrontation between a man and Rafa, and is later unpacked when Alicia asks him more about it: “No me voy a enojar con ese racista… Ese hombre quería una pelea. –¿Este tipo de incidentes pasa a menudo? / ‘I’m not going to get mad at this racist…that man wanted a fight.’ ‘Do these types of incidents happen often?’” (pp. 29-30).

It is worth noting that racism is not only a single act that displays hatred towards another individual because of who they are, where they come from and the color of their skin, but can consist of systemic and local racism that serves to keep people disenfranchised. Microaggressions can also do the same damage towards people, within a group of people, and do not have to be as extreme or obvious as the example in the text.

The newer version of the book (2019) begins with a preface that notes that the story was originally written in French and set in a French setting, then later transposed to a Costa Rican setting. The preface also notes that the author (who is French) and the person who adapted the story (who is Mexican) originally intended to place the Spanish-language version of this story in Mexico, but they decided that a Mexican setting did not work for the story, so they placed it in Costa Rica (p. iii) with the assistance of the author’s Costa Rican husband (p. i). Readers may wonder about the extent to which French or Mexican cultural systems may have been transposed onto the Costa Rican characters.

The story presents a confrontation between two friends that brings about strong language when Sonia (Rafa’s sister) says, “Usted no es más que una cochina traidora / You are nothing more than a traitor pig” (p. 25). In some varieties of Spanish, this phrase can be interpreted more harshly than the translation provided in the book and the language has potential to be offensive.

Update 1/15/2023: This review has been updated by the Board on the basis of feedback provided by the author. A previous version of this review stated incorrectly that Wild Soul Project was not a Costa Rican organization.

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