Title: The Smell of Old Lady Perfume
Author: Claudia Guadalupe Martinez
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary
Synopsis: When Chela Gonzalez’s father has a stroke, her grandmother comes to help. The house fills up with the smell of her old lady perfume, a smell that carries with it sorrow and loss.
The Smell of Old Lady Perfume is a own-voice narrative for middle grade children about young 11 year old Chela and the year her life changes. Chela’s family is very close and they happily reside in El Paso, TX. The four children are very loved by their parents who are very involved in their lives and are always encouraging their education because they were unable to have one. This is a wonderful story about first generation Mexican-Americans and Martinez throws in some really excellent lines about the feel a child has when they see themselves as Americans but also Mexicans.
Chela’s father has a stroke and her world changes, girls at school are very mean to her and Chela’s loneliness is palpable. I really loved this story, I loved the family dynamic, I loved how insightful Chela is about the adult themes happening around her. This is written in a way that is perfect for younger teens, it explores subjects such as menstruation, bullying and being different but above all, about accepting one self and accepting grief.
One of my favorite themes in this book is how close Chela is to her Apa, her father. She considers him her best friend and their scenes are heart-warming in their simplicity. I also enjoyed how her relationship with her older sister changes as they blossom into teenage-hood. A really lovely read, one can almost read it in one sitting because it’s not particularly long or overly complex. Note – if you do not enjoy child-narrators this would definitely not be for you.