The Smell of Old Lady Perfume

The Smell of Old Lady Perfume
Age Range
Release Date
July 01, 2008
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Claudia Guadalupe Martinez’s debut novel for young adults is a bittersweet story about death, family, and the resilient emotional strength of the human heart. Chela Gonzalez, the book’s narrator, is a nerd and a soccer player who can barely contain her excitement about starting the sixth grade. But nothing is as she imagined—her best friend turns on her to join the popular girls and they all act like Chela doesn’t exist. She buries herself in schoolwork and in the warm comfort of her family. To Chela, her family is like a solar system, with her father the sun and her mother, brothers, and sister like planets rotating all around him. It’s a small world, but it’s the only one she fits in. But that universe is threatened when her strong father has a stroke. Chela’s grandmother moves in to help the family. The smell of her old lady perfume invades the house. That smell is worse than Sundays. Sundays were sad, but they went just as sure as they came. Death was a whole other thing, and Chela doesn’t understand that’s what everyone is waiting for. In her grief and worry, Chela begins to discover herself and find her own strength.

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1 review
Sweet Coming of Age Tale
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Chela can't wait to start the sixth grade. Both her and her best friend Nora dream how this will be the year. Then tragedy strikes. Chela's beloved father has a stroke. Her grandmother moves in to help and the scent of her overpowering cologne fills the home. Chela tries to make sense of all this while battling the nasty girls at school and hoping everything will go back to the way it was before.

This is a great coming of age story that shows a young Latina girl's love of her family. I especially loved her portrayal of her apa-her father. She compares her family to a solar system is which her father is the sun and the rest of her family are the planets that rotated around him. The sense of family is strong in this story. It's refreshing to read stories where the Latino family isn't the stereotypical broken one with cholos on every corner. No, in this story you feel the love that binds this family together.

The nasty girls felt a little predictable at times though the author does a great job showing how lonely it can be to be shunned by those at school. Even her best friend Nora joins the group. But Chela rises to the top with the love of her father and family.

Another thing I loved in this story was the way Spanish is woven throughout with dichos-sayings- that show the culture.

I loved Chela's father too. This is a sweet coming of age story that rings true.
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