The Princess of Las Pulgas by C. Lee McKenzie
Publisher:  Scholastic Press
Published  November 28th 2010
Hardcover, 334 pages
Challenges:  100 Books in 2011, A-Z Reading Challenge

After her father’s slow death from cancer, Carlie thought things couldn’t get worse. But now, she is forced to confront the fact that her family in dire financial straits. To stay afloat, her mom has had to sell their cherished oceanfront home and move Carlie and her younger brother Keith to the other side of the tracks to dreaded Las Pulgas, or “the fleas” in Spanish. They must now attend a tough urban high school instead of their former elite school, and on Carlie’s first day of school, she runs afoul of edgy K.T., the Latina tattoo girl who’s always ready for a fight, even on crutches. Carlie fends off the attention of Latino and African American teen boys, and one, a handsome seventeen-year-old named Juan, nicknames her Princess when he detects her aloof attitude towards her new classmates. What they don’t know is that Carlie isn’t really aloof; she’s just in mourning for her father and almost everything else that mattered to her. Mr. Smith, the revered English teacher who engages all his students, suggests she’ll like her new classmates if she just gives them a chance; he cajoles her into taking over the role of Desdemona in the junior class production of Othello, opposite Juan, after K.T. gets sidelined. Keith, who becomes angrier and more sullen by the day, spray paints insults all over the gym as he acts out his anger over the family’s situation and reduced circumstances. Even their cat Quicken goes missing, sending Carlie and Keith on a search into the orchard next to their seedy garden apartment complex. They’re met by a cowboy toting a rifle who ejects them at gunpoint from his property. But when Carlie finds him amiably having coffee with their mom the next day — when he’s returned her cat — she begins to realize that nothing is what it seems in Las Pulgas. 

Princess of Las Pulgas is one of those books that brings you back to reality, away from the of the paranormal craze. C. Lee McKenzie’s Carlie is a unique character put in a unique situation.  After her father dies she is forced to grow up in many ways, even in ways that she is not aware of. 

From the first page Carlie’s story became very personal.  Having lost a parent Carlie feels many emotions: sadness, anger, frustration, confusion, and even guilt and relief.  Unless you have lost a parent it is very hard to understand what Carlie goes through; however, C. Lee McKenzie fills that gap wonderfully.  
Carlie is thrown into a new world that she doesn’t understand and doesn’t want to understand.  After her father dies her mom can no longer sustain the life style they have become accustomed to – in short, they become poor, have to sell their home and move into a very small apartment and attend a very different type of school.  No matter how Carlie looks at it, life cannot get any better.
“My dad died of cancer in the month when spirits walk among the living. He’s still here because I’m having a hard time letting him go. I need him to help me sort out the feelings inside me, like the funnel clouds that drop from the sky when you least expect them. You may think I’m mad, but when you read my story, you’ll see that it’s not about madness. Its about hating the person you love the most. It’s about the guilt that keeps October’s dark chill in my heart and won’t allow the spring to come in.” 

Carlie cannot let go of prejudices she once held against people and places – people and places that did not represent her ‘old’ life in any way.  Then her English teacher volunteers her for the lead role in the school play.  Just as in the play, the concept and affects of death plays a vital role in her life.  And as in the play, these concepts are worked out in some form or another.  
While there is a love interest in the novel, C. Lee McKenzie does not make it the main attraction.  This is a perfect break from novels that make ‘romance’ more important than a life changing event.  Carlie and her experiences are real.  She transforms in front of your eyes from a girl to a woman.  You will cry tears of sadness and joy, get frustrated at Carlie, and root for her.  You won’t be able to not add this to your favorite’s list!
My Rating:
C. Lee McKenzie’s Home Page

** Disclosure: I received this book from The {Teen} Book Scene in exchange for an honest review.