Both Jake and Tina are also educators and though they have students that have been put under their care,
there is a great deal they have to learn about each other, themselves and even how to make sense of a
world and circumstances that quick frankly don't make sense. When their child is born and everything
is not as "normal" as they thought, there becomes a real race to do something and to do it quickly
before it's too late.
There is a lot at stake for the main characters, however, they are to go through this situation with
the help of someone like Maria that teaches them a lesson or two on her own.
For many the greatest gift of the book will be the appreciation for life and everything that goes along
with that. I would say although there are physical gifts in the book, a great deal of it has to do with
learning and appreciating the very things that so many of us take for granted, like our health, our
happiness and even what it means to be secure.
Written in a way that will entertain readers as well as give some powerful lessons along the way,
Winestsky's Maria Juana's Gift is a real literary treat.
~ Cyrus Webb
A lot has happened between 1976 and 2011 that a reader of Maria Juana's Gift has to
keep in mind, yet this novel, based on real events, resonates with present day themes and
emotions. The "borderlands" is that part of our geography that belongs to the people of both
the southwestern United States and Mexico, where apprehension and deeply felt humanity coexist
and intermingle in ordinary everyday lives. In broad strokes, our "borderlands" experiences
are repeated all over the world.
This direct narrative—no stylistic frills—has enormous implications. The plot is
simple: A nice man is trying to save the life of his newborn child and he cannot get the
cooperation of the people who have authority to help him. The story opens in suspense and
action, where every decision and attitude count, we discover later.
Alternating with the race for help in Part I are delicately detailed scenes leading up to this
crisis, when two idealistic young teachers from California fall in love and decide to teach in a
small Arizona border community, predominantly Spanish speaking. They are welcomed because they
know the language and are determined to serve local needs.
In 1976, the 200th year of American Independence, retirement communities were just beginning to
appear in southern Arizona. Mexicans who had immigrated to what was originally part of their
native land, but changed into a U.S. Territory with the Gadsden Purchase, frequently visited
their relatives left behind in Sonora. Sonorans shopped regularly in Tucson. Tucsonans played on
the beaches in Sonora. There was almost no difference in culture in the 150 or so miles straddling
the political boundary—much of it was nearly uninhabitable—yet there were a few crucial differences.
One was the way the young people in Mexican American families had begun to distinguish themselves as
Hispanic, and sometimes distanced themselves from their ancestors. Another was the improvement in
economic circumstances once new arrivals from Mexico became U.S. citizens and educational
opportunities opened doors for them. They became middle class and even prosperous, while back in
Mexico their relatives were living close to poverty.
I first felt irony between the lines of this story when I understood that so many young people in the
borderlands wanted what Jake and Tina had turned their backs on to lead more authentic lives.
Where there is poverty there is scarcity of services; any health care available on the Arizona side of
the border was (and is) important to Sonorans. On the border there were (and are) clinics where
well-educated doctors were (usually temporarily) assigned. Or, depending on their networks and beliefs,
sick people trusted women called curanderas who had inherited knowledge of how to treat ailments, and
whose great gift was to learn to observe their patients closely.
Against this reality, the author writes of Jake and Tina Friend who could afford the best of care if it
were available. Tina has had two early miscarriages, but in her first year teaching at this school is
pregnant again, and all goes well until it is time to deliver at the small local hospital. The author
here exposes a flaw in the credentialed medical system—arrogance. The first individual to concur
with Tina that something was wrong with the baby is the least-credentialed hospital worker, whose
Mexican heritage stands in the way of her knowledge being taken seriously.
But Marķa does have power, and among the surprises in the denouement is how she uses it.
Although the author made this fiction, along with his first book, Grey Pine, set in the aftermath of the
volcanic eruption on Mt. St. Helens, I believe he is a trustworthy documentarian, and the information he
imparts is vitally important for us to understand.
~ Karen Dahood, Author of Sophie Redesigned (A Sophie and Sam Mystery)
Set in 1970s America, T. Lloyd Winetsky's novel Maria Juana's Gift is a fascinating study
in contrasts. The story opens with a frenetic dash through Bicentennial parades on the
US-Mexico border, but side-steps swiftly to the slowly wakening love of two young teachers
attending a bilingual ESL conference in San Diego. Shifting scenes reveal deepening love
contrasted with medical crisis, city comfort with small-town privation, metropolis with
border, ocean with desert sand. Meanwhile Jake and Tina, open to possibilities, eager to help,
caring more about people than rules, become wonder-workers in a tiny border-town community,
support an immigrant's quest for hope and education, and prepare for the birth of their child.
The medical emergency is the child's. The doctors ignoring it are listening to the wrong—white,
sports-watching, authoritarian, US-trained—people. And Maria Juana, of the wrong ethnicity,
is ignored as she worries and prays. (The protagonist, very convincingly, does not pray.)
The author keeps his opinions in the background throughout, letting the story tell itself. If there
are politics, they're presented with humanity and concern through the protagonists' eyes. If there
are conclusions to be drawn, they're left to the reader to find. For me, the most inspiring part of
the story is not what happens, but how the protagonists react—another wonderful contrast between
the legalism of "sue the doctors" and "kick out the immigrants" vs. humanity and trust.
Though fictional and written in the third person, this novel reads much like a memoir, detailed and
linear (in spite of the shifting storyline), with diary-like retelling. A few well-chosen photographs
enhance the feel of a true story behind the scenes, a testament to the authenticity of the author's
voice perhaps. The "gift" is surprising. The dog provides hilarious comic relief. The background of
70s America is convincing and well-drawn. And the whole is a sometimes slow, sometimes frantic,
emotionally and socially intriguing read.
Maria Juana? The protagonist says if you say it right it sounds like something else, but the woman
laying claim to the name has no problem with it.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from PRbytheBook in exchange for an honest review.
~ Sheila Deeth
Tina and Jake are a married couple. They are teachers in La Cholla in Mexico. Jake and Tina are a
normal couple. They met, fell in love, got married and had a baby. Only when Tina gave birth to
their daughter, Emma did Tina and a nurse at the hospital named Maria realize that something was
wrong. Though, it is hard to get any help when you have to convince your husband that the baby is
not well. If Tina and Maria have a hard time convincing Jake than they will have an even harder
time convincing the doctor as well. When they do finally convince the doctor that something is
not right with Emma will it be too late?
I liked this book but I thought it was a little disjointed in the way it read. It started out with
Tina in the hospital after giving birth to her and Jake's daughter, Emma. I knew something was wrong
from the summary but than the story line switched to the past but abruptly. Tina and Jake were a nice
couple. It was good getting to know them and how they met as it helped to really to make me feel for
them and the situation they were going through. Again, though if the switching from past to present
was not so choppy, I would have enjoyed this book more. In fact, to be honest, it got to be too much
for me that I finally flashed forward to about the last third of the book and finished reading the
book. Except for the disjointedness, I liked the characters and the story.
~ Cheryl Koch
T. Lloyd Winetsky grew up in Los Angeles and has taught ESL and Bilingual Education to students
of all ages in the Southwest and Northwest. Now retired from full-time teaching, Terry is
currently a part-time ESL instructor for adult farm workers. Marķa Juana's Gift is the author's
second novel. His first, Grey Pine (2007), is a psychological-historical novel set during the
ash fall from Mount St. Helens in 1980. His third novel, also historical fiction, is Los Angeles,
1968: Happy Ranch to Watts, published in 2014—it takes place in a South-Central Los Angeles school
during the volatile spring of 1968. A fourth novel, Belagana-Belazana, is planned for release in
2016. It takes place in the Navajo Nation, where Winetsky and his spouse, Kathleen, taught for
several years. Pen-L Publishing will release Belagana-Belazana plus new editions of the first
three books in Winetsky's "American Teachers" series. Terry and Kathleen live in the Yakima Valley
of Central Washington.