STARRED REVIEW
February 25, 2021

Starting Over in Sunset Park

By José Pelaez & Lynn McGee, illustrated by Bianca Diaz
Review by

A young girl from the Dominican Republic relates the uplifting story of how she and her mother made a new life in Brooklyn in Starting Over in Sunset Park.

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A young girl from the Dominican Republic relates the uplifting story of how she and her mother made a new life in Brooklyn in Starting Over in Sunset Park.

“My first trip in an airplane was from the Dominican Republic to New York City,” the narrator begins. Though she is homesick, she’s also awestruck by the beauty of New York, where she and her mother move in with her aunt and cousins. Eventually, they are able to find their own apartment, which the girl is excited about, though she still spends time reflecting on the home she left behind. In a moving spread, she remembers time spent with her abuela. Authors José Pelaez and Lynn McGee write the girl’s grandmother’s advice to her in Spanish, then translate it in a parenthetical, a technique they use throughout the book.

The girl struggles at school, where her English skills lag behind other students’, but she finds unexpected common ground with her teacher, who emigrated from Poland as a child. From that deeply felt experience, along with what she learns from her upstairs neighbor and a new job involving lots of cats, the girl gains confidence and begins to settle into her new home: “This strange new place began to feel a little magical.”

The unnamed girl’s first-person narration, one of the book’s strengths, is consistently authentic; she is vulnerable but tough, and her experiences reflect those faced by many immigrants to the United States. Illustrator Bianca Diaz’s bright, eye-catching palette radiates warmth with sunny yellows, brilliant reds and pinks, verdant greens and appealing blues and purples. A story full of vitality and compassion, Starting Over in Sunset Park will speak to all readers but will resonate most strongly with anyone who has ever made a home in a new country.

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Starting Over in Sunset Park

Starting Over in Sunset Park

By José Pelaez & Lynn McGee, illustrated by Bianca Diaz
Tilbury House
ISBN 9780884488446

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