The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico by Sarah McCoy

The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico by Sarah McCoy is a coming of age novel about a young girl, Maria — also known as Verdita — in Puerto Rico during the debate about whether or not the nation should become a member of the United States or remain independent.  Part of Maria Ortiz-Santiago’s family lives in the United States and part lives on the island in a little barrio, and readers get a taste of the differences between the two lives when Omar, her cousin, comes back to visit.  As the two grow older and grow apart, Verdita continues to ramp up her competitive spirit when he’s near to retain her hold on her father.  She’s always had a fear that a boy would usurp her father’s affections, especially after her mother becomes pregnant.

“For my eleventh birthday, Papi made piraguas.  He left balloons of water in the freezer until they were solid, then peeled the plastic off like bright banana skins.  On the veranda, he used his machete to shave the globes into ice chips.  Hard bits of cold spit out where the ball and blade met, landing on my arms and legs, cheeks and nose.  Papi said it was a Puerto Rican snowfall, and laughed long and deep.”  (page 1)

Verdita is a willful girl and very curious about everything around her, including the independence debate, the cock fights at the local bar, and the United States.  Readers will find that she’s obsessed with the United States and how different it is from her home in the barrio.  She wants to be blond, listen to Elvis, and learn English.  She wants to remain close with her father, but push her mother away.  All this mixed up emotion and desire in one girl is so vibrant on the page, female readers especially will remember what it was like to become a senorita and leave girlhood behind and all of the mixed and high emotions that brought with it.

“I ate until my stomach pushed into the table ledge.  I didn’t even really like the hamburger, but I liked that it came from America — that I was eating like an American.  It made me feel bigger than my finca on the mountain, bigger than the whole island.  I’d seen the States, even if I hadn’t seen President Kennedy.  My stomach was full of America.”  (page 59)

Even as she sees the goodness in her roots and her family, she still longs for the foreignness of the United States.  She becomes accustom to sharing her life with a sibling, but still longs to break break free.  She’s struggling between the desire to grow beyond her roots, deeply earthed in Puerto Rico, but barely realizing that she can grow taller and broader by taking the leap without having to sever her ties to home.

McCoy’s choice of first person point of view is spot on for a coming of age story, and while filtered through Verdita’s eyes rather than the other characters, readers will not feel as though they have missed anything.  She’s observant, opinionated, curious, and eager to explore.  The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico is not only about growing up, but about taking chances and spreading wings to find out who we are, who we want to be, and how we can make the best of everything we are given in terms of familial support and available opportunities.

This was a book I just had to pick up at the Gaithersburg Book Festival when Sarah McCoy was in town.  She’s a lovely writer and woman, and it was great to see her again and get another autograph.  I cannot wait to read her next novel.

About the Author:

SARAH McCOY is author of the novel, The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. The daughter of an Army officer, her family was stationed in Germany during her childhood. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband and dog, Gilbert, in El Paso, Texas. The Baker’s Daughter is her second novel. She is currently working on her next.


  1. bookworm says

    I’ve added this to my wishlist, I have to read it. The piragua excerpt you shared here made me smile 🙂 Great review!

  2. I just looked this up on Amazon and it is bargain priced! I think I will have to pick it up! Your review has me wanting to read it! The story’s setting is one you don’t see too often which makes it very intriguing! Great review!

    • I hope you pick up a copy. I really enjoyed this one and it makes you feel like you’re on the island with the characters.

  3. I bought this one immediately after reading The Baker’s Daughter! Now, after reading your excellent review of this one, I need to bump it up on my Kindle !!!

  4. I have this one too — and it’s signed! Beautiful review and I need to read this one sooner rather than later.

  5. Oh, so you actually read the books you pick-up at festivals? I am still waiting to read mine. The ones that were purchased two years ago!

    This book sounds lovely.

  6. Okay, I love the title, I love the cover, and I love the premise. I enjoyed McCoy’s second novel and I really love that her fiction examines some thorny issues. I’m so adding this one to the TBR!

  7. I bought this when I first met Sarah on Twitter and found out she’s a Hokie. I’m so glad to see it’s great!

  8. I’ll have to borrow this one for sure. It sounds fantastic.

  9. This is one of those books that has been on my wish list since i first read about i a year or so ago. I was so happy to read your review –love the sound of it.