Download high-resolution image Look inside
Listen to a clip from the audiobook
audio pause button
0:00
0:00

Las Madres

A novel

Look inside
Listen to a clip from the audiobook
audio pause button
0:00
0:00
Paperback
$18.00 US
5.13"W x 7.98"H x 0.66"D  
On sale Aug 06, 2024 | 336 Pages | 9780345803894
| Grades AP/IB
From the award-winning, best-selling author of When I Was Puerto Rican, a powerful novel of family, race, faith, sex, and disaster that moves between Puerto Rico and the Bronx, revealing the lives and loves of five women and the secret that binds them together

They refer to themselves as “las Madres,” a close-knit group of women who, with their daughters, have created a family based on friendship and blood ties.Their story begins in Puerto Rico in 1975 when fifteen-year-old Luz, the tallest girl in her dance academy and the only Black one in a sea of petite, light-skinned, delicate swans, is seriously injured in a car accident. Tragically, her brilliant, multilingual scientist parents are both killed in the crash. Now orphaned, Luz navigates the pressures of adolescence and copes with the aftershock of a brain injury, when two new friends enter her life, Ada and Shirley. Luz’s days are consumed with aches and pains, and her memory of the accident is wiped clean, but she suffers spells that send her mind to times and places she can’t share with others.

In 2017, in the Bronx, Luz’s adult daughter, Marysol, wishes she better understood her. But how can she when her mother barely remembers her own life? To help, Ada and Shirley’s daughter, Graciela, suggests a vacation in Puerto Rico for the extended group, as an opportunity for Luz to unearth long-buried memories and for Marysol to learn more about her mother’s early life. But despite all their careful planning, two hurricanes, back-to-back, disrupt their homecoming, and a secret is revealed that blows their lives wide open. In a voice that sings with warmth, humor, friendship, and pride, celebrated author Esmeralda Santiago unspools a story of women’s sexuality, shame, disability, and love within a community rocked by disaster.
© Robert Curtis/CANTOMEDIA
ESMERALDA SANTIAGO is the author of the novel Conquistadora and the memoirs When I was Puerto Rican and Almost A Woman, which was adapted into a Peabody Award–winning movie for PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre. Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, she lives with her husband, documentary filmmaker Frank Cantor, in New York, and Port Clyde, Maine. View titles by Esmeralda Santiago
Luz

July 4, 2017

After Luz Peña Fuentes settled in the United States, the accent mark over the n in Peña was left out in English. In Spanish her full name means “Light Rock Fountains” but without the tilde, Pena Fuentes means “Sorrow Fountains” or “Penalty Fountains” or “Pity Fountains” or “Shame Fountains.”

“Crossing an ocean made me sadder,” she tells her daughter, Marysol Ríos Peña, whose first name in English means “Sea-and-Sun.” “I’d rather be rock than sorrow.”

“You are who you believe you are, Mom. Your name and your identity are different things.”

“Sí, eso es verdad. That’s a good way to look at it.” Luz makes note of Marysol’s words in her journal.

At a clinic, Luz is annoyed when a nurse calls for Mrs. Pena. “Am I Señora Pitiful?”

“No, Mom. Far from it. You have a good life and you’re loved. Nothing to pity there.”

Luz doesn’t have to add that to the page. At fifty-seven years old, and in spite of some old injuries and age-related creaks and aches, she’s physically fit, has satisfying work, and lives comfortably.

On weekdays, Marysol walks Luz to Mi Casa Adult Daycare, around the corner from their home. There, Luz feeds patients, wheels them from one table to another when they want to play cards or dominoes, keeps them company in the garden behind the building, and three times a week, leads them in chair-bound exercises.

She often interrupts her tasks to add entries in her journal. When the pages are full, she shelves the journal next to those already arranged in her living room, the spines labeled by day, month, and year so she can later consult what she did when, with whom, and where. She reads her memory books with the same excitement and engagement she does beloved novels, finding new details with each reading. Sketches, drawings, cartoons, tickets from visits to a museum, the theater, the zoo, or the Botanical Gardens interrupt her looping handwriting. She lingers on the text or on the details that evoke a memory, a curiosity, a revelation.

This is my life, she’ll tell herself, and just as often, Is this my life? The statement does not invalidate the question.

After work and dinner, Luz enters her studio, formerly Marysol’s childhood bedroom. On the wall, Luz has lettered peña on a granite slab her friends brought from the abandoned quarry near their house in Maine. Now Luz prepares the materials for her next art project.

Soon after she met Danilo, the man who became her husband, Luz drew his portrait on a stone she picked up in Van Cortlandt Park. He liked it so much, she gave him a self-portrait for their first wedding anniversary. A year later, she painted Marysol’s image and for every birthday after that. Marysol now displays them in her apartment across the hall in their two-family house.

The portraits began as a hobby, but friends and neighbors begged Luz to paint their children or their favorite singers or movie stars. Soon, she had commissions from strangers. This week, she’s working on a series for a family who sent photographs and stones from their Vermont property.

Luz has laid out the stones on her table, has cleaned and prepared their surfaces, but before she turns the lights off in her studio, another one catches her eye. It’s green slate, one inch thick, ten inches long by three and a half inches wide, too big and distinctive for the family group. Its boundaries are like the map of Puerto Rico on her wall, the landmass wider on the left, shaped like a dog’s snout, and narrower toward what would be the canine’s tail. Inspired, she writes a reminder to create a portrait of the island with its rivers, lakes, and mountain ranges as a Christmas gift for Marysol. She scrolls through stock images of Puerto Rico on her computer, and is overcome.

It’s her last Navidades in Puerto Rico. She’s fifteen, a ballet dancer poised for her cue, the first notes of a sparkling Tchaikovsky suite imminent, her muscles vibrating. She’s about to perform solo on a shimmering stage meant to simulate fog, her tutu speckled with rhinestones, her satin pointe shoes secured by ribbons. She tries to hold on to the moment but it dissipates as quickly as it appeared.

Eighteen months after that performance, Luz was whisked from San Juan, a sixteen-year-old healing from physical and emotional trauma, mired in grief and loss, her memories diffused and disjointed. As the plane lifted into the sky toward New York, Luz left behind what happened that fateful summer of fireworks, Bicentennial celebrations, and perfect 10s in the Olympic Games.

Luz has forgotten so much, she’s sure she’s invented most of her life so she can say she’s Luz Peña Fuentes. On July 4, 2017, she vaguely remembers that dancing girl in Puerto Rico, strong as a rock, who in the United States is sorrowful, penalized, shamed, and pitiful.
"A powerful and heartbreakingly accurate portrait of those unimaginable hours and seemingly interminable days after [Hurricane Maria]....For those who lived through Maria, or remember their relatives’ desperate accounts, Santiago is faithful to the details, both big and small....Her book captures what it means to be a Puerto Rican amid the cycles of loss and upheaval. It also becomes a timely and important chronicle of this chapter in the U.S. territory's history....With Las Madres, Santiago creates an indelible record of her homeland—and its resilience—during one of its toughest chapters." 
—Sandra Lilley, NBC News

"A close-knit group of female friends finds their bonds tested and their lives upheaved by the passage of time before coming together again in Puerto Rico in this elegantly woven novel from the author of When I Was Puerto Rican."
—Emma Specter, Vogue

"[A] dynamic and riveting novel....Santiago creates a tapestry of family, gender, race, sexuality and disability….Santiago unapologetically centers the female voice....[and] takes the reader on a visceral and gripping journey rendered in incredible detail....[A] stunning homage to Puerto Rican pride and resilience." 
—Veronica Corpuz, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"A sweeping and supple story centering three Puerto Rican women and their daughters living in the Bronx. As one of their daughters becomes curious about her background, her mother's childhood car accidentwhich took the lives of both of her mother's parentscomes sharply into view. Yet her mother can't remember the tragic event. To uncover the mystery, the women plan a vacation to Puerto Rico, a place wracked by hurricanes and secrets long buried." 
Ms. Magazine

“Santiago offers a vibrant portrayal of women supporting one another through disability and hardship.”
—Becky Meloan, The Washington Post

"In her most recent novel, Las Madres, Santiago explores a fresh perspective by highlighting the life stories of five Puerto Rican women residing in the U.S....Santiago’s intimate familiarity with these types of stories, through her own friends and siblings, adds a depth and authenticity to their narratives." 
—Francisco Gutierrez, Latina

"Gorgeous....[Las Madres] is sprawling in scope but tightly woven as a story, and every character is richly detailed....A tapestry of love and family that is a joy to read....Santiago is a deeply gifted storyteller, capturing the depth of her characters and extending care to all of them as she grapples with themes like memory, grief, and identity." 
—Sarah Neilson, Shondaland.com

"Esmeralda Santiago’s Las Madres is an inspiring story of women and their friendships that reminds us of our own."
—Sandra Cisneros, author of Woman Without Shame

"Esmeralda Santiago is already a legend. With Las Madres, a rich and deeply felt novel about friendship, family secrets, belonging, and the boundless love that survives devastation, she confirms her status as an absolute icon."
—Cristina Henriquez, author of The Book of Unknown Americans

"I savored this tender novel that celebrates the power of resilienceof Luz, of las madras, las nenas and the people of Puerto Rico. Santiago’s Las Madres is full of secrets and sacrifice and moments of tension and laughter that can only come in the company of women with long histories together.  With many rich layers, this full hearted novel beautifully explores the power of human compassion and what it means to truly care for another."
Xochitl Gonzalez, author of Olga Dies Dreaming

"An emotionally vast and resonant new novel by the brilliant Esmeralda Santiago. Oscillating between two pivotal years decades apart, Las Madres is a deep-dive into the history of modern Puerto Rico and a number of its extraordinary women—their secrets, their tragedies, and the reclamations they share. A magnificent read."
Cristina García, author of Vanishing Maps

"A richly told and indelible story....Santiago’s…gorgeous prose is the backbone of Las Madres — it's as expansive as it is concerned for the smallest details, an exercise in [her] masterful storytelling....Las Madres has cemented its place as a timeless story that will leave readers with a greater understanding and appreciation of what it means to navigate life as a Puerto Rican." 
—Amaris Castillo, PopSugar

“An immersive intergenerational saga… Santiago wrings palpable emotion from her characters, and hauntingly portrays Hurricane María’s devastating effect on the island… This tenderhearted story of trauma and recovery has undeniable appeal.”
Publishers Weekly

"In 2017, Luz returns home to Puerto Rico with family and friends—the “madres” of the title—hoping to recover memories lost in a 1975 accident that took the lives of her accomplished scientist parents. The first novel in a decade from an author whose memoir When I Was Puerto Rican was a major best-seller."
Library Journal

About

From the award-winning, best-selling author of When I Was Puerto Rican, a powerful novel of family, race, faith, sex, and disaster that moves between Puerto Rico and the Bronx, revealing the lives and loves of five women and the secret that binds them together

They refer to themselves as “las Madres,” a close-knit group of women who, with their daughters, have created a family based on friendship and blood ties.Their story begins in Puerto Rico in 1975 when fifteen-year-old Luz, the tallest girl in her dance academy and the only Black one in a sea of petite, light-skinned, delicate swans, is seriously injured in a car accident. Tragically, her brilliant, multilingual scientist parents are both killed in the crash. Now orphaned, Luz navigates the pressures of adolescence and copes with the aftershock of a brain injury, when two new friends enter her life, Ada and Shirley. Luz’s days are consumed with aches and pains, and her memory of the accident is wiped clean, but she suffers spells that send her mind to times and places she can’t share with others.

In 2017, in the Bronx, Luz’s adult daughter, Marysol, wishes she better understood her. But how can she when her mother barely remembers her own life? To help, Ada and Shirley’s daughter, Graciela, suggests a vacation in Puerto Rico for the extended group, as an opportunity for Luz to unearth long-buried memories and for Marysol to learn more about her mother’s early life. But despite all their careful planning, two hurricanes, back-to-back, disrupt their homecoming, and a secret is revealed that blows their lives wide open. In a voice that sings with warmth, humor, friendship, and pride, celebrated author Esmeralda Santiago unspools a story of women’s sexuality, shame, disability, and love within a community rocked by disaster.

Author

© Robert Curtis/CANTOMEDIA
ESMERALDA SANTIAGO is the author of the novel Conquistadora and the memoirs When I was Puerto Rican and Almost A Woman, which was adapted into a Peabody Award–winning movie for PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre. Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, she lives with her husband, documentary filmmaker Frank Cantor, in New York, and Port Clyde, Maine. View titles by Esmeralda Santiago

Excerpt

Luz

July 4, 2017

After Luz Peña Fuentes settled in the United States, the accent mark over the n in Peña was left out in English. In Spanish her full name means “Light Rock Fountains” but without the tilde, Pena Fuentes means “Sorrow Fountains” or “Penalty Fountains” or “Pity Fountains” or “Shame Fountains.”

“Crossing an ocean made me sadder,” she tells her daughter, Marysol Ríos Peña, whose first name in English means “Sea-and-Sun.” “I’d rather be rock than sorrow.”

“You are who you believe you are, Mom. Your name and your identity are different things.”

“Sí, eso es verdad. That’s a good way to look at it.” Luz makes note of Marysol’s words in her journal.

At a clinic, Luz is annoyed when a nurse calls for Mrs. Pena. “Am I Señora Pitiful?”

“No, Mom. Far from it. You have a good life and you’re loved. Nothing to pity there.”

Luz doesn’t have to add that to the page. At fifty-seven years old, and in spite of some old injuries and age-related creaks and aches, she’s physically fit, has satisfying work, and lives comfortably.

On weekdays, Marysol walks Luz to Mi Casa Adult Daycare, around the corner from their home. There, Luz feeds patients, wheels them from one table to another when they want to play cards or dominoes, keeps them company in the garden behind the building, and three times a week, leads them in chair-bound exercises.

She often interrupts her tasks to add entries in her journal. When the pages are full, she shelves the journal next to those already arranged in her living room, the spines labeled by day, month, and year so she can later consult what she did when, with whom, and where. She reads her memory books with the same excitement and engagement she does beloved novels, finding new details with each reading. Sketches, drawings, cartoons, tickets from visits to a museum, the theater, the zoo, or the Botanical Gardens interrupt her looping handwriting. She lingers on the text or on the details that evoke a memory, a curiosity, a revelation.

This is my life, she’ll tell herself, and just as often, Is this my life? The statement does not invalidate the question.

After work and dinner, Luz enters her studio, formerly Marysol’s childhood bedroom. On the wall, Luz has lettered peña on a granite slab her friends brought from the abandoned quarry near their house in Maine. Now Luz prepares the materials for her next art project.

Soon after she met Danilo, the man who became her husband, Luz drew his portrait on a stone she picked up in Van Cortlandt Park. He liked it so much, she gave him a self-portrait for their first wedding anniversary. A year later, she painted Marysol’s image and for every birthday after that. Marysol now displays them in her apartment across the hall in their two-family house.

The portraits began as a hobby, but friends and neighbors begged Luz to paint their children or their favorite singers or movie stars. Soon, she had commissions from strangers. This week, she’s working on a series for a family who sent photographs and stones from their Vermont property.

Luz has laid out the stones on her table, has cleaned and prepared their surfaces, but before she turns the lights off in her studio, another one catches her eye. It’s green slate, one inch thick, ten inches long by three and a half inches wide, too big and distinctive for the family group. Its boundaries are like the map of Puerto Rico on her wall, the landmass wider on the left, shaped like a dog’s snout, and narrower toward what would be the canine’s tail. Inspired, she writes a reminder to create a portrait of the island with its rivers, lakes, and mountain ranges as a Christmas gift for Marysol. She scrolls through stock images of Puerto Rico on her computer, and is overcome.

It’s her last Navidades in Puerto Rico. She’s fifteen, a ballet dancer poised for her cue, the first notes of a sparkling Tchaikovsky suite imminent, her muscles vibrating. She’s about to perform solo on a shimmering stage meant to simulate fog, her tutu speckled with rhinestones, her satin pointe shoes secured by ribbons. She tries to hold on to the moment but it dissipates as quickly as it appeared.

Eighteen months after that performance, Luz was whisked from San Juan, a sixteen-year-old healing from physical and emotional trauma, mired in grief and loss, her memories diffused and disjointed. As the plane lifted into the sky toward New York, Luz left behind what happened that fateful summer of fireworks, Bicentennial celebrations, and perfect 10s in the Olympic Games.

Luz has forgotten so much, she’s sure she’s invented most of her life so she can say she’s Luz Peña Fuentes. On July 4, 2017, she vaguely remembers that dancing girl in Puerto Rico, strong as a rock, who in the United States is sorrowful, penalized, shamed, and pitiful.

Praise

"A powerful and heartbreakingly accurate portrait of those unimaginable hours and seemingly interminable days after [Hurricane Maria]....For those who lived through Maria, or remember their relatives’ desperate accounts, Santiago is faithful to the details, both big and small....Her book captures what it means to be a Puerto Rican amid the cycles of loss and upheaval. It also becomes a timely and important chronicle of this chapter in the U.S. territory's history....With Las Madres, Santiago creates an indelible record of her homeland—and its resilience—during one of its toughest chapters." 
—Sandra Lilley, NBC News

"A close-knit group of female friends finds their bonds tested and their lives upheaved by the passage of time before coming together again in Puerto Rico in this elegantly woven novel from the author of When I Was Puerto Rican."
—Emma Specter, Vogue

"[A] dynamic and riveting novel....Santiago creates a tapestry of family, gender, race, sexuality and disability….Santiago unapologetically centers the female voice....[and] takes the reader on a visceral and gripping journey rendered in incredible detail....[A] stunning homage to Puerto Rican pride and resilience." 
—Veronica Corpuz, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"A sweeping and supple story centering three Puerto Rican women and their daughters living in the Bronx. As one of their daughters becomes curious about her background, her mother's childhood car accidentwhich took the lives of both of her mother's parentscomes sharply into view. Yet her mother can't remember the tragic event. To uncover the mystery, the women plan a vacation to Puerto Rico, a place wracked by hurricanes and secrets long buried." 
Ms. Magazine

“Santiago offers a vibrant portrayal of women supporting one another through disability and hardship.”
—Becky Meloan, The Washington Post

"In her most recent novel, Las Madres, Santiago explores a fresh perspective by highlighting the life stories of five Puerto Rican women residing in the U.S....Santiago’s intimate familiarity with these types of stories, through her own friends and siblings, adds a depth and authenticity to their narratives." 
—Francisco Gutierrez, Latina

"Gorgeous....[Las Madres] is sprawling in scope but tightly woven as a story, and every character is richly detailed....A tapestry of love and family that is a joy to read....Santiago is a deeply gifted storyteller, capturing the depth of her characters and extending care to all of them as she grapples with themes like memory, grief, and identity." 
—Sarah Neilson, Shondaland.com

"Esmeralda Santiago’s Las Madres is an inspiring story of women and their friendships that reminds us of our own."
—Sandra Cisneros, author of Woman Without Shame

"Esmeralda Santiago is already a legend. With Las Madres, a rich and deeply felt novel about friendship, family secrets, belonging, and the boundless love that survives devastation, she confirms her status as an absolute icon."
—Cristina Henriquez, author of The Book of Unknown Americans

"I savored this tender novel that celebrates the power of resilienceof Luz, of las madras, las nenas and the people of Puerto Rico. Santiago’s Las Madres is full of secrets and sacrifice and moments of tension and laughter that can only come in the company of women with long histories together.  With many rich layers, this full hearted novel beautifully explores the power of human compassion and what it means to truly care for another."
Xochitl Gonzalez, author of Olga Dies Dreaming

"An emotionally vast and resonant new novel by the brilliant Esmeralda Santiago. Oscillating between two pivotal years decades apart, Las Madres is a deep-dive into the history of modern Puerto Rico and a number of its extraordinary women—their secrets, their tragedies, and the reclamations they share. A magnificent read."
Cristina García, author of Vanishing Maps

"A richly told and indelible story....Santiago’s…gorgeous prose is the backbone of Las Madres — it's as expansive as it is concerned for the smallest details, an exercise in [her] masterful storytelling....Las Madres has cemented its place as a timeless story that will leave readers with a greater understanding and appreciation of what it means to navigate life as a Puerto Rican." 
—Amaris Castillo, PopSugar

“An immersive intergenerational saga… Santiago wrings palpable emotion from her characters, and hauntingly portrays Hurricane María’s devastating effect on the island… This tenderhearted story of trauma and recovery has undeniable appeal.”
Publishers Weekly

"In 2017, Luz returns home to Puerto Rico with family and friends—the “madres” of the title—hoping to recover memories lost in a 1975 accident that took the lives of her accomplished scientist parents. The first novel in a decade from an author whose memoir When I Was Puerto Rican was a major best-seller."
Library Journal

2024 Middle and High School Collections

The Penguin Random House Education Middle School and High School Digital Collections feature outstanding fiction and nonfiction from the children’s, adult, DK, and Grupo Editorial divisions, as well as publishers distributed by Penguin Random House. Peruse online or download these valuable resources to discover great books in specific topic areas such as: English Language Arts,

Read more

PRH Education High School Collections

All reading communities should contain protected time for the sake of reading. Independent reading practices emphasize the process of making meaning through reading, not an end product. The school culture (teachers, administration, etc.) should affirm this daily practice time as inherently important instructional time for all readers. (NCTE, 2019)   The Penguin Random House High

Read more

PRH Education Translanguaging Collections

Translanguaging is a communicative practice of bilinguals and multilinguals, that is, it is a practice whereby bilinguals and multilinguals use their entire linguistic repertoire to communicate and make meaning (García, 2009; García, Ibarra Johnson, & Seltzer, 2017)   It is through that lens that we have partnered with teacher educators and bilingual education experts, Drs.

Read more

PRH Education Classroom Libraries

“Books are a students’ passport to entering and actively participating in a global society with the empathy, compassion, and knowledge it takes to become the problem solvers the world needs.” –Laura Robb   Research shows that reading and literacy directly impacts students’ academic success and personal growth. To help promote the importance of daily independent

Read more