The author is a former pediatric cardiologist in New York City whose personal background and medical practice have shaped this, her first book.
Mari is a 15-year-old Dominican-American living in New York City who was abandoned by her mother, has a father in jail who never wanted her, and is living with her paternal grandmother who acts like she doesn’t want her either (to the point that she doesn’t even feed her). The grandmother’s boyfriend is also in the apartment, and Mari has had to teach him to leave her alone. Mari’s situation is largely similar to that of friends in the community, though some have more responsible adults around. Basically, however, it is a culture of single mothers and grandmothers working low-paying jobs while trying to raise kids and keep live-in boyfriends happy.
So, in the midst of this, Mari decides what she needs is a baby who will love and stay with her forever. She gets pregnant on purpose with her slightly younger boyfriend, not really expecting he will stay around anyway.
Friends and grandma are all delighted the baby is coming. Baby daddy pretends to be. Unfortunately, ultrasounds show the baby has only half a heart and will need immediate, experimental, and expensive surgeries as soon as he is born in order to survive.
Although Mari agrees to get an abortion, she cannot bring herself to go through with it and hides her pregnancy as long as possible. When her grandma finds out, she throws Mari out of the apartment. Mari then goes from friend to friend, trying to hide out in their homes without being discovered by parents and siblings.
The baby is born, receives medical care, goes home, and at the end of the book is eight months old and heartwarmingly drawing conflicting parties together. This baby, though, has a lot of expectations riding on his frail shoulders.
There are over five pages of Dominican slang inserted at the front of the book to help readers translate text. There is a fair amount of bad language both in English and in the Dominican dialect. There are sexual references and allusions to child abuse. There is some violence, including attempted rape.
Mari has a tough upbringing. Nevertheless, she is selfish, rude, ungrateful, and irresponsible. When the issue of who will pay for the baby’s extreme medical needs comes up, a doctor says a social worker will be in touch to see that the medical insurance is in order (like there is any insurance; presumably we are talking about Medicaid). Mari doesn’t keep the appointment because she has no use for social workers. This issue never rears its head again in the book.
The author is a good writer and moves the story along well. There is some growth and revelation of characters.