Me in the Middle by Ana Maria Machado

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Machado, Ana Maria.  Illustrated by Caroline Merola.  Translated by David Unger.  1982.  ME IN THE MIDDLE.  Buffalo:  A Groundwood Book.  ISBN: 0-88899-463-X.

In Me in the Middle Ana Maria Machado tells the story of a young girl named Isabel, "Bel" for short, who comes across a picture of her great-grandmother one day when her mother is cleaning.  At first, it is hard for Bel to grasp the concept that the little girl in the picture is her Bisabuela (great-grandmother) Beatriz and she wants to keep her Bisa Bea's picture with her.  Her mother allows her to take the picture to school and Bel loses it while playing.  Although the picture is lost, Bel feels that Bisa Bea is living inside her and giving her guidance and telling her about the way things were when she, Bisa Bea, was a girl.  Bisa Bea has decidedly old-fashioned views, but there is another voice in Bel's head, this one is her own great-granddaughter, Nieta Beta.  It seems that Nieta Beta had found a picture of her Bisa Bel and made a Delta holograph of the photo, which allows Beta to enter Bel's world.  Bisa Bea encourages Bel to act the way she did as a girl, but Nieta Beta encourages her to act more modern, so Bel feels herself "in the middle" linking the past and the future.  One of Bel's classmates found the picture of Bisa Bel and turned it in to the teacher, which led to a discussion of ancestors and family.  Thinking about her own family and her classmates' families, Bel realizes that they are like a "people braid," intertwined and interconnected across the generations.

Machado uses an extremely original framework in Me in the Middle to discuss what it means to be a modern girl.  She contrasts Bel's life at the turn of the twenty-first century with Bisa Bea's life at the turn of the twentieth century by having Bisa Bea try to remake Bel in her image.  Instead of letting Bel be a modern girl, running, playing, climbing trees, associating with boys, wearing pants, using tissues, Bisa Bea wants her to be quiet and ladylike, dressed in frills, and carrying an embroidered lace handkerchief.  Adding Nieta Beta, an even more modern girl than Bel leaves her with the old angel on one shoulder, devil on the other scenario, although it is not always clear which one is supposed to be angel and which the devil.  

Me in the Middle contains several elements of Brazil.  First, there are the names Isabel, Beatriz, Sergio, Marcela, Doña Sonia, and the terms for grandmother ("abuela") and great-grandmother ("bisabeula").  There is a scene where Bel and Sergio go to get guavas, not a common fruit in other parts of the world, from a neighbor's courtyard.  When Bel and her mother are going through family photos and find Bisa Bea's photo, they come across pictures of family members at the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio.   Although not particular only to Brazil, Bisa Bea tells Bel about mosquito netting on beds when she was young.  She also tells Bel about foods from her day like camel drool and angel breast and items like a candy dish called a bonbonniére.  

Machado has said, "many just cannot see that distinction between writing about things that are born simple, and writing about complex issues made simple enough so that a child can grasp the underlying principles."  Just as hearing about Bisa Bea makes Bel's classmates think about their own grandparents and great-grandparents, reading Me in the Middle will make readers think about their grandparents and great-grandparents and what their lives were like. 

Works cited:
Ortolano, Glacuo.  "An Interview with Ana Maria Machado."  World Literature Today.  Spring 2002:  109-113.  Accessed March 26, 2006.

By Monica Wood