By Esmeralda Santiago
278 pages; Da Capo Press

Because we fell in love with her large, loud, wonderful family.

Santiago recalls the sensuous tastes, sounds and traditions of her early childhood in rural Puerto Rico, followed by her move with her mother, Mami, and six siblings to Brooklyn. Soon there were 11 children and the family depended on welfare; Esmeralda, as the oldest, served as her mother's translator. She portrays impoverished people as people, not statistics, and we see her pride in her heritage, as well as the inevitable culture clashes. She eventually graduated with honors from Harvard University, wrote her best-selling memoir (the first in a trilogy) and became a critically acclaimed novelist—a stylist with the grace to inspire others. — Dawn Raffel