The Madonnas of Echo Park

The Madonnas of Echo Park

A Novel

  • reading group guide
  • freshman reading
We slipped into this country like thieves, onto the land that once was ours.

With these words, spoken by an illegal Mexican day laborer, The Madonnas of Echo Park takes us into the unseen world of Los Angeles, following the men and women who cook the meals, clean the homes, and struggle to lose their ethnic identity in the pursuit of the American dream.

When a dozen or so girls and mothers gather on an Echo Park street corner to act out a scene from a Madonna music video, they find themselves caught in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting. In the aftermath, Aurora Esperanza grows distant from her mother, Felicia, who as a housekeeper in the Hollywood Hills establishes a unique relationship with a detached housewife.

The Esperanzas’ shifting lives connect with those of various members of their neighborhood. A day laborer trolls the streets for work with men half his age and witnesses a murder that pits his morality against his illegal status; a religious hypocrite gets her comeuppance when she meets the Virgin Mary at a bus stop on Sunset Boulevard; a typical bus route turns violent when cultures and egos collide in the night, with devastating results; and Aurora goes on a journey through her gentrified childhood neighborhood in a quest to discover her own history and her place in the land that all Mexican Americans dream of, "the land that belongs to us again."

Like the Academy Award–winning film Crash, The Madonnas of Echo Park follows the intersections of its characters and cultures in Los Angeles. In the footsteps of Junot Díaz and Sherman Alexie, Brando Skyhorse in his debut novel gives voice to one neighborhood in Los Angeles with an astonishing— and unforgettable—lyrical power.
  • Free Press | 
  • 224 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439170854 | 
  • June 2010
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Brando Skyhorse delves into The Madonnas of Echo Park

A new voice in ethnic literature, Brando Skyhorse's story of a Mexican-American community is now in paperback.

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The Madonnas of Echo Park 2

The Blossoms of Los Feliz
Spring is here and it makes my joints ache. All those jacaranda blossoms on the walk outside to sweep up. Jacaranda trees thrive in Los Angeles, like blondes and Mexicans. There’s no getting away from them, not even in my dreams. They’ve haunted me from childhood, when I believed a jacaranda tree would save me. Can you imagine such a thing, a tree saving a life? A silly girl thought so once.

I’d been sent to my grandmother’s home in Chavez Ravine by a... see more

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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Madonnas of Echo Park includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Brando Skyhorse. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

The Madonnas of Echo Park follows the lives of Mexican Americans in the shifting landscape of Los Angeles’s Echo Park neighborhood, highlighting the intersections and collisions of American and Mexican culture. Felicia, a housekeeper, and her daughter Aurora weave in and out of each others’ lives, struggling to find a common ground on which to relate. Aurora’s estranged father Hector finds himself a witness to a murder, and must choose between deportation and complicity. Aurora’s former classmates Duchess and Angie, steeped in American culture, drift apart as they choose different paths in life, each looking for a place to fit in. Felicia’s aging mother Beatriz, who gave Felicia up as a baby, is torn between guilt and nostalgia, and her own driving self-interest. As their lives tangle together and bounce apart, each is given the opportunity to decide what is truly important to them.

Questions for Discussion

1. The first chapter of see more

About the Author

Brando Skyhorse
Photograph © Eric van den Brulle

Brando Skyhorse

Brando Skyhorse’s debut novel, The Madonnas of Echo Park, received the 2011 PEN/Hemingway Award and the Sue Kaufman Award for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The book was also a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick. He has been awarded fellowships at Ucross and Can Serrat, Spain. Skyhorse is a graduate of Stanford University and the MFA Writers’ Workshop program at UC Irvine. He is the 2014 Jenny McKean Moore Writer-In-Washington at George Washington University.

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