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Book Review

Jose B. Gonzalez

Book Review: The Smell of Old Lady Perfume by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez


With a curious but intriguing title, The Smell of Old Lady Perfume by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez pulled me in, though I have to admit that at first I hesitated.  After all, just the thought of Old Lady Perfume makes conjures up memories that are not so pleasant.  I imagined a book about the battle between cheap, dollar store perfume and mothballs.  Once I read the book, however, I couldn’t help but just plain love it. 

This short, children’s novel (ages 9-12), is about the kinds of things that we don’t always want to confront but eventually have to.  The main character, Chela Gonzalez, faces many challenges, including having to adjust to life in sixth grade.  What seems major in her life sometimes become minor and vice versa.  For example, she struggles to make friends at school and those everyday happenings that once seemed so paramount to so many of us—such as finding someone with whom to sit at the cafeteria—become reasons to stress.  That is until her father has a stroke and she finds guidance and comfort in his words as she helps out around the house and keeps him company.  Her grandmother, who wears perfume, comes to live with her, signaling that perhaps her father’s situation is worse than Chela anticipates. 


The Smell of Old Lady Perfume is a wonderfully written book taking me to the days when I was and wasn’t crazy about school, and the days when my own family faced health issues.  What I especially enjoyed about the book is that it does not talk down.  The young adult and children’s book market is thriving, yet some works that have been published in the last few years aim to be didactic, as if their main purpose is to teach explicit lifelong lessons.  This novel tells a fascinating story and peels away life’s pains by confronting them, not by watering them down. 


When I review books, every once a while, I think of how it would be nice to share the books with others.  This is one novel that I’ll be sharing with my oldest daughter, who is in the fourth grade.  Reading it, I felt like I was reliving some of my past.  When my daughter starts reading it, she’ll likely see a little bit of herself, a little bit of me, and a lot of great writing.  Like me, I’m sure she’ll be a Claudia Guadalupe Martinez fan, eagerly awaiting the author’s next book.




Copyright 2006 design and content by John S. Christie and Jose B. Gonzalez
Copyright 2006 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature, Pearson Education, Inc.
Copyright 2006 Latino Fiction and the Modernist Imagination, John S. Christie


Last Updated: July 06, 2009