Emily Goldberg Learns to Salsa by Micol Ostow 2006
IQ "It'd be nice to have real feelings, strong feelings for someone-as a person more than just a romantic entity. I'll bet that Lucy has real feelings for Rafael...which in turn leads to the suckiness. So unfair, life." Emily pg. 134
Emily Goldberg Learns to Salsa tells the story of Emily Goldberg, a half Jewish, half Puerto Rican high school senior. She's never met her mother's Puerto Rican relatives until her Puerto Rican grandmother dies and her mother insists the whole family attend the funeral. Emily's always been curious as to why her mother doesn't talk about her Puerto Rican family, but she's always simply assumed that her mother didn't want to be a part of her family back in Puerto Rico once she moved to America. After all her mother moved to New York, went to college, married and converted to Judaism. She's never mentioned her Puerto Rican sisters or parents or extended family. But being back in Puerto Rico makes her mother nostalgic. She decides she wants to stay for a little while over the summer and Emily's dad wants Emily to stay with her. Emily reluctantly agrees although she's a little upset over the fact that she is missing the summer road trip her friends have planned and that she won't be spending time with her boyfriend, Noah before they both go to college. Emily's Puerto Rican relatives are polite, but many of them think she's spoiled and they all call her the 'nuyorican'. Emily's cousin, Lucy, gives her an especially hard time.
This novel is cute and predictable with some holes. Emily is a genuine character; funny, awkward, shy and astute. One of my favorite quotes of hers (besides the IQ) is "the moment feels pregnant, tense, brimming with potential and unspoken promises." I've never heard a moment descriebd as pregnant and I thought that was funny and clever. Her struggles are what the everyday teen goes through. She's worried that she and Noah aren't handling their distance well and she's not sure what they're going to do once they're both in college. They've never talked about their relationship in the long-term, like it states in the above quote, Emily starts to realize that she likes the idea of having a boyfriend, better than her actual boyfriend. Her struggle is over whether or not she can change her feelings and fix her relationship with Noah which is severely weakened by her being in Puerto Rico. Lucy was an annoying character. She has a grudge against Emily and viewed her as being a pampered princess. My problem with her was she held the grudge for so long when there was clearly evidence to the contrary that Emily wasn't spoiled and stuck-up. Emily's shyness could be perceived as snottiness but she quickly proves that she's not and I would have liked to see a better relationship between Lucy and her. Emily's boyfriend is a completely abstract character, which is fitting I guess, since we don't see much of him, but Emily thinks about him all the time so I was expecting a little more information on him. The secondary characters like Ricky, Rafael, Jose (Lucy's brother), Marisa (Emily's precocious ten year old neighbor) Ramona and all of Lucy's other friends are pretty flat as well. I especially wanted to know why Marisa was so fascinated with Emily.
I feel like the novel didn't fully explore Puerto Rico. In that, Emily didn't really get out all that much, she spent most of the time at home with her mom and one of her mom's sisters, Rosa (her mother has four sisters, but they stayed at Rosa's house) and her family. She didn't even visit her other relatives. It would have been nice if Emily asked questions about her Puerto Rican heritage but she never did. In truth she spent most of the time being timid and boring and she started to get on my nerves. She was genuine yes, but genuinely annoying. And she didn't even learn how to salsa dance till the last chapter! She did visit Old San Juan and a few other historical places as well as teen hotspots in Puerto Rico (clubs and malls) but there wasn't much detail about the people there and whether or not it was the same as American dance clubs and malls.
All in all, Emily Goldberg Learns to Salsa is an enjoyable read, but the characters aren't particularly endearing or memorable. I'm sure this is a story I'll forget down the line, but it was an entertaining quick read. Emily's struggles are authentic especially in addressing the issues that arise the summer before going to college for many high school students, but she was just an ok character who didn't really discover her roots. 8th grade and up.