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Family Lore by Elizabeth Acevedo
Magical realism

Family Lore

by Elizabeth Acevedo

Excellent choice

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Quick take

When an anthropologist puts her own family under the microscope, she uncovers plenty of secrets, drama, and magic.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MultipleNarrators

    Multiple viewpoints

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_FamilyDrama

    Family drama

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_NonLinear

    Nonlinear timeline

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Literary

    Literary

Synopsis

Flor has a gift: she can predict, to the day, when someone will die. So when she decides she wants a living wake—a party to bring her family and community together to celebrate the long life she’s led—her sisters are surprised. Has Flor foreseen her own death, or someone else’s? Does she have other motives? She refuses to tell her sisters, Matilde, Pastora, and Camila.

But Flor isn’t the only person with secrets. Matilde has tried for decades to cover the extent of her husband’s infidelity, but she must now confront the true state of her marriage. Pastora is typically the most reserved sister, but Flor’s wake motivates this driven woman to solve her sibling’s problems. Camila is the youngest sibling, and often the forgotten one, but she’s decided she no longer wants to be taken for granted.

And the next generation, cousins Ona and Yadi, face tumult of their own: Yadi is reuniting with her first love, who was imprisoned when they were both still kids; Ona is married for years and attempting to conceive. Ona must decide whether it’s worth it to keep trying—to have a child, and the anthropology research that’s begun to feel lackluster.

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Family Lore.
Family Lore

Flor had a tabulated ranking for the seasons, autumn being her least preferred of the climatic periods in North America. The dying season, for Flor, had always been worse than the dead.

She should have been taking her daily constitutional through Riverside Park—despite the rain, she knew the lukewarmth would soon yield to frostier days—but instead she found herself seated on the pink print couch, with the documentary.

She told it one way. The truth that was not the truth.

Flor often listened to her daughter speak of her research with one ear flapped closed. But the other ear, the other ear perked up anytime her daughter made an utterance in her direction. Flor wasn’t entirely sure when she’d started looking to her child for approval, but these days she was forever finding herself trying to demonstrate relevance. Flor was not great at keeping track of all the rituals, myths, and performances humans had conducted from Mesopotamia del carajo to now, but Flor was great at worrying that only through sharing her daughter’s anthropological interests would they ever become close.

“She teaches Dominican history at City College” was the answer Flor gave to people in the neighborhood regarding her girl’s career.

(It was always hard for Mami to explain what I, Ona—with my three degrees, mind you—actually did for work. Mami learned that trying to explain that I studied sugarcane ruins and pre-Columbian trade routes, and everything having to do with Kiskeya between the early 1500s and the mid-twentieth century, to a bunch of unlearned imbeciles (her words, not mine) would lead to neighbors shaking their head: My son has a job in bookkeeping, ja ja, easier than a job in books.)

But there was a documentary that Ona hadn’t stopped talking about the entire summer. And so, Flor called her sister Camila to help her set up the Netflix, and put the captions in Spanish, and with rain insulating Manhattan in water, she watched the screen.

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Why I love it

Family Lore is the intricate, sweeping story of the Martes, a family of Dominican-American women who possess magical gifts, from a supernatural talent on the dance floor to the ability to predict the day of someone’s death. The women’s gifts are wondrous, but it’s the soul-deep bonds they share that make this novel vibrant and unforgettable.

When 70-year-old Flor announces she’ll be hosting a living wake, her sisters, Camila, Pastora, and Matilde, draw around her, as does the next generation of Martes. Each woman is sorting through her own heartache: trouble conceiving and carrying a child, a reunion with a lover released from jail, an aging and unfaithful husband, and death itself, to name a few. Elizabeth Acevedo poignantly portrays each woman’s struggle, as well as how the Martes show up for one another, as they prepare for the wake and the family’s next chapter. To whom will they say good-bye? How will their family change and grow?

This novel got under my skin and into my heart. Acevedo is a masterful storyteller, as wise as she is funny, as tender as she is tough, and her characters are astonishingly real. I’ve recalled scenes from the novel as if they were stories passed down to me by loved ones. Who was it again who on her wedding night was dumped at a hotel while her husband went out to chase other women? Who was it who watched something sexy on her computer one night without knowing that her husband could hear? Who was it whose sister rescued her from that cruel aunt? This is how alive the Marte women have become to me—their family lore has become my own.

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Member ratings (5,013)

  • Darina P.

    Atlanta, GA

    A 6 star book! As a Dominican American woman, I loved the topics of our spirituality, women in Dominican folklore, relationship dynamics, sexuality. I annotated it so much! I’ll be coming back to it❤️

  • Bree S.

    Brookfield , IL

    I don’t have the words to fully explain how much I loved this beautifully deep book. I became so attached to these women! I definitely want to see more adult work by Acevedo in the future, stunning

  • Lydia L.

    Lansdowne, PA

    4⭐️ I absolutely love reading about women of a certain age who just want to LIVE! this book felt like I was sitting down and drinking coffee with each of the characters as they were telling me tales

  • Nicole H.

    Waltham, MA

    I really enjoyed this book about sisters, and mothers, and daughters. I loved the slight tinge of magical realism and learned so much aboutthe Dominican Republic and Dominican immigrants in New York.

  • Heather C.

    Portland, OR

    This might be my favorite book of the year! The story follows 4 sisters from the DR, some with preternatural gifts, as they live their lives in NYC. Lyrical, gorgeous prose and incredible characters.

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