Cofer, Judith Ortiz. 2011. IF I COULD FLY. New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux. ISBN 9870374335175 [Suggested Grade Levels 7-10]
Doris, the 15 year-old daughter of musician parents living in New Jersey, finds her world turned upside down when her ailing mother leaves for Puerto Rico to pursue her own career. With her father preoccupied with his band’s new singer, Doris seeks solace tending to homing pigeons, trying out different personas at school, and spending time with troubled friends. In a burst of independence, she flies to Puerto Rico to reunite with her mother and discovers that her real place is back home where she can learn to be herself. Like the birds she cares for, Doris learns to fly, declaring, “I have flown against the wind and only lost a few tail feathers. Viva, Doris!”
In this first person narrative, Doris tells her story in lyrical prose with a natural inclusion of Spanish phrases throughout the text. This journey of self-discovery celebrates Doris’ efforts to look both inside herself and outside to the external forces that complicate her life. Her friendship with gay free spirit Arturo and streetwise Yolanda frame the difficulties of teenage life in a tough urban setting, a backdrop for Doris’ exploration of how she, too, fits into the world.
To explore the art of first person narration, ask students to choose another character in the book and to write a scene from the new character’s perspective. Discuss how the scene changes with a new narrator.
Other books about teens exploring their cultural identity:
Ortiz Cofer, Judith. AN ISLAND LIKE YOU: STORIES OF THE BARRIO.
Resau, Laura. WHAT THE MOON SAW. ISBN 9780385733434
Alvarez, Julia. HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS.
By Susi Parks Grissom