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The Fresh New Face of Griselda
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- ebook $6.99 $8.99 CAD
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Griselda "Geez" Zaragoza has a love for beautiful things, like her collection of vintage teacups and the flower garden she and her dad planted in the front yard. But when his business fails, Griselda loses not just her home, but also her confidence and her trust in her unflappable parents.
Tagging along with big sister Maribel, who postponed college for a job selling Alma Cosmetics, Geez dreams up a way to reclaim the life she thinks she lost. If she can sell enough tubes of glistening, glittery Alma lip gloss, she'll win a cash prize that could help jump start her dad's business.
With ups and downs along the way, Geez will discover that beauty isn't just lost or found, but made and remade.
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Beautification to my mind is far more than a matter of cosmetics.
—LADY BIRD JOHNSON
No one is coming to the door, but not because no one is home. Inside the apartment, a baby howls over the gentle murmur of a lullaby.
This is hopeless.
“Let’s just go,” I tell my big sister, Maribel. “She’s too busy.”
The two of us barely fit on the porch. We had to step over a fern and shove aside a stroller just to get to the door.
Maribel ignores me. She is not giving up. She presses her lips together, narrows her eyes, and stares at the door as if, by focusing hard enough, she can will the person inside to open it.
She breathes in deeply through her nose and tries the doorbell again. “Is this thing even working? Did you hear it ring?”
I don’t answer—first, because she isn’t really asking me, but also because it’s hard to tell. The baby’s sobs have turned into big gulping hiccups, and those are the only sounds I can say for sure I hear coming from inside the apartment’s thin walls.
Maribel huffs. She stops pressing the doorbell and knocks instead, sharp and insistent. Bam, bam, bam.
I give up on leaving the porch anytime soon and sit down next to the fern. A maidenhair. There’s a frayed blue ribbon tied around the pot and a small, yellowing card that reads Welcome, Baby!
The tips of the fern are brown and beginning to curl, so I unscrew the top of my water bottle and pour out the last warm drops. There’s only enough to dampen the top layer of soil, but it might help, and anyway, it’s the best I can do.
I toss the empty bottle into a cardboard box filled with recyclables in the corner of the porch, then slump forward and rest my chin on my knees.
“We’ve been out here forever, Mari. She’s not going to answer. Can we just go ho—” I stop myself. “Can we just go back?”
“You could have stayed with the car,” Maribel says, without taking her eyes off the door.
“I couldn’t have stayed with the car—it’s like a million degrees outside.”
It is, too. Fall is just a few weeks away—according to the calendar at least. But during these last days of August, breezes still blow so hot and dry they make your eyes burn. Beads of sweat tickle on their way down my neck and under my T-shirt.
Yet even in her stiff, plum-colored blazer, Maribel doesn’t seem to be sweating at all. Her makeup satchel slips down her shoulder, and she hefts it up again.
Knock, knock, knock.
“You’re just going to make her mad.”
“She’s going to be happy to see me,” Maribel argues, through a too-sweet grin. “She”—knock—“just”—knock—“doesn’t know it yet.”
She’s lifting her fist to knock again when the door creaks open. Not more than a few inches, just enough to see a woman’s red-rimmed eye blink at us. Enough to startle me. I slide a little farther away.
Maribel lowers her arm, steps back, and squares her shoulders. Her candy-apple smile glistens as she tilts her head and says, “Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to meet you. My name is Maribel.” She pauses to tap her name badge with a flawlessly manicured fingernail. “And I’m here with Alma Cosmetics, the Soul of Beauty.”
Her voice goes up when she says soul, the way a bird trills when it sees the sun rise.
She actually thinks this is going to work. I want to look away but can’t. My ears go hot, even though if anyone should be a blushing bundle of nerves right now, it’s Maribel, not me.
But I don’t think Maribel remembers what nervous feels like. I mean, if she ever knew to begin with.
Holding a baby in one arm, the woman opens the door a little wider. She looks from Maribel to me and shakes her head. “This is… not a good time,” she whispers, then starts to close the door as the baby begins snuffling.
But Maribel is unstoppable. Instead of walking away, she takes a step closer. Part of me wishes I had stayed in the car after all.
“Those,” Maribel says, leaning in toward the lady as if she’s about to tell her a secret, “are the longest eyelashes I have ever seen. Listen, I totally get it: You don’t have time, and I don’t want to keep you. But can I just ask, what brand of mascara do you use? I mean, I’m an Alma girl, one hundred percent, but for that kind of volume…”
And then the woman laughs.
It’s a thin laugh that sounds as if it might break apart like glass if we aren’t careful. But still. She’s laughing.
“Mascara?” She looks down at her T-shirt where a splotch of baby drool is slowly spreading over her shoulder. “I call it a good day if I manage to brush my teeth.”
Maribel takes another step closer. “Get out. Are you telling me those lashes are… natural?”
The woman rolls her eyes and moves the baby onto her other hip.
“All right, all right, don’t get carried away,” she says. But she’s still smiling. Her eyelashes even flutter a little. She takes her hand off the door.
“I’d invite you in, but I’m a mess, the place is a mess, and he”—she pauses, turning to nuzzle the baby’s nose with hers—“is a mess. Not to mention overdue for a nap.”
It’s as if Maribel doesn’t hear any of it. She holds out her arms. “Why don’t you let my sister, Griselda, hold him for a minute—babies love her—and I’ll show you a few samples? Just for fun?”
“Mari!” I protest.
She turns to me and mouths, Get up! then repeats aloud, “Babies love her.”
The door opens wider still.
“No pressure or anything—we’ve made all our sales for the day,” Maribel continues. “It’s just that we were on our way out when I saw the stroller and heard the baby and thought, ‘There’s someone who might appreciate Dewy as Dawn, our new replenishing moisturizer.’ It’s a real miracle worker. And if you don’t mind my saying so, you look like you could use some pampering.”
Some of what Maribel says is true, anyway.
We were on our way back from the mall when Maribel took a detour. She was exactly one order short on her sales goal for the Alma Cosmetics item of the month. Sell thirty jars of Dewy as Dawn replenishing moisturizer and she would win a special prize and cash bonus. Sale number thirty, Maribel had decided, was buried like treasure somewhere in this apartment complex, and we weren’t going to leave until she found it.
We walked up and down stairs, and back and forth across breezeways, Maribel’s eyes darting from door to door. “Fifteen minutes,” she muttered to herself. “Get me in the door and give me fifteen minutes.”
I didn’t know what she was looking for, and she wouldn’t stop to tell me. I could hardly keep up.
“How about this one?” I said, pointing to an apartment, trying to be helpful. “At least we know there’s someone home.” The woman inside was stirring something in a skillet—I could just see her through the gaps in the blinds. I couldn’t tell what she was cooking, but from the smell that drifted out the window, I guessed it had onions and green peppers.
Maribel scowled and kept walking. “With food on the stove? Get serious.”
She finally stopped when we came to the apartment with the stroller parked in front. I couldn’t see what made it so different from any of the others, but Maribel said, “This is it. Fifteen minutes.”
And after the lady finally invites us in, that’s almost exactly how long it takes Maribel to make her sale.
By the time we leave the apartment, she and her new customer are hugging goodbye as if they’ve known each other since forever—while I pry the end of my braid out of the baby’s chubby fingers. I give him back to his mom, her face freshly moisturized. Replenished. Dewy, some might say.
“Bye-bye,” I whisper to the baby, waving. He waves back, his hand opening and closing like a sticky, slobbery lobster claw.
“I’ll see you again in a few weeks,” Maribel calls from the sidewalk. “When it’s time to reorder!”
I can’t believe she pulled it off. Even for Maribel, it was kind of amazing.
We walk back to the car, and I wait on the passenger side for Maribel to peel off her blazer and unlock the door. It’s late afternoon, the warmest part of the day, when heat spills down from the sinking sun and also seems to rise up from the baking asphalt.
“How did you know?” I ask.
“Know what?” she says, rummaging through her bag for the keys.
“That it would work?” I say. “That she would finally open the door? That she wouldn’t just tell us to get lost?”
Maribel shrugs. “It’s not that hard if you know what you’re looking for. Stroller on the porch—she planned to go out but the kid wouldn’t cooperate. Dead plant—too distracted to even water it. No time to take out the recycling.” Maribel finds the keys and lets us into the car. “It was the same way with Mom when you were a baby. That lady wasn’t going to turn down a grown-up conversation. She definitely wasn’t going to turn down the chance to give her arms a break.”
I move the shoebox I had left on my seat and climb inside, careful to keep my legs lifted a few inches off the hot upholstery.
Maribel digs a notepad and booklet out of her satchel. She opens the notepad and turns to a dog-eared page. “Thirty jars of moisturizer, plus the extra lipstick, puts me over five hundred dollars for the month. That should be…” She taps a pen against her teeth. “A seventy-five-dollar cash bonus and…” She flips through the booklet, frowns. “A ‘rose-gold watch with glaaaamorous crystal accents,’” she reads. “Great. Just what I need.”
“Rose gold sounds nice.”
Maribel drops the booklet on top of the cup holder between our seats. She checks the rearview mirror and backs out of the parking space. “I guess. Maybe I can sell it.”
“Too bad you had to lie for it.”
“Geez, I didn’t lie to her, I just… made her feel like herself again. Anyway, are you trying to tell me that Alma’s new miracle moisturizer didn’t leave her face looking as dewy as the dawn?” Maribel steers onto the street. “As dewy as the very dawn?” she says again, this time grabbing my shoulder and shaking it for emphasis.
I wriggle away from her. “Keep your hands on the steering wheel.” Then I pick up the booklet, wishing a dab of lotion was all I needed to feel like myself again.
Sales Rewards, it reads on the cover. With Alma Cosmetics, your business is a thing of beauty! I open it. Inside, there are pictures of watches and bracelets, purses and scarves—prizes my sister can earn if she sells enough makeup. The biggest picture of all is of a saleswoman smiling in the driver’s seat of a silvery-purple convertible. She wears a plum-colored blazer just like Maribel’s, and her caramel-brown ponytail flies out behind her, blown back by the wind on an invisible open road. The Soul of Ambition! the booklet exclaims. Accelerate your career with Alma’s car program, an exclusive reward for associates averaging $3,000 a month in sales.
Three thousand dollars a month. I wonder how many jars of lotion that is. How many lipsticks. How many candy-apple smiles and “Pleasure to meet yous” standing outside a stranger’s doorway. It seems like an impossible number.
Then I look up at my sister, one elbow hanging out the rolled-down window, her shining black eyes focused on the street ahead. If anyone can do it, it’s Maribel.
“What?” she says, sensing my stare.
I look away, out my own window. “Nothing.”
“Whatever. Check inside my bag—in the side pocket,” she says. “There should be a little box.”
I twist around and reach into the back seat where she had left her satchel.
Maribel glances over and nods. “Keep it. For dealing with the kid. Totally sealed the deal.”
I open the box and shake out a tube of lip gloss, carnation pink with teensy flecks of gold. I twist off the applicator brush and sniff. Smells like strawberries, only sweeter than the real thing. The label on the bottom says this shade is called Once Upon a Time.
“It’s from the new Fairytale Collection,” Maribel explains. “Flatters everyone. You can try it out for the first day of school.”
“Right. I get it. ‘Once Upon a Time.’”
But this doesn’t feel like a beginning. And the story we’re stuck in the middle of? It’s definitely not a fairy tale.
I drop the lip gloss into my cup holder, then set the shoebox on my lap. I lift open the top, and there they are, the shoes Mom had sent Maribel and me to buy at the mall, all ready for the start of sixth grade tomorrow.
Plain and white.
I sigh. Louder than I mean to.
Maribel nudges me with her elbow. “Geez, seriously. They’re not that bad.”
Mom and Dad gave me my name, of course. My real name. Griselda Zaragoza.
A strong name.
A family name.
A name like an ugly stepsister.
A name like a gurgle.
A name that starts with lumps and bumps and ends in sharp, jagged edges.
But the one Maribel gave me—her name literally means beautiful, by the way—turned out to be worse.
It was after recess on my first day of kindergarten, and I was crying in a bathroom stall. Ms. Encinas, the recess supervisor, was just outside the door, trying to coax me out.
“Griselda? Sweetheart? Will you open the door? Or just tell me what’s wrong? I really need you to use your words right now.” Her voice was soft, as downy as my naptime blanket. But I could hear a hint of impatience in it.
“All right. Well, I’m going to see if I can find some extra help. But I’ll be right back, okay? I promise.”
Part of me was relieved when Ms. Encinas went away. The more she asked what was wrong, the smaller I felt, and the harder it was to tell her. I wondered if she had gone to get the principal. Or my teacher? Maybe she was going to call my mom.
I waited. Besides my sniffles, the only sounds were the drip, drip of a leaky faucet and the quiet whir of the ventilation fan until a voice called into the bathroom.
“What are you doing in there?”
It was worse than the principal.
“It’s like I told you, Maribel. Your sister’s been crying in there for the past ten minutes. I don’t know what’s wrong and I can’t get her to come out. I thought maybe she would feel better if you were here.”
The soles of Maribel’s shiny black Mary Janes click-clacked over the blue-green bathroom tiles and stopped in front of my stall. Light from the ceiling panels winked off her toes.
Thwap, thwap. The door rattled when she knocked.
“Geez, get out. Right now.”
G.Z. for Griselda Zaragoza.
Gee Zee, only the more Maribel said it, the more she slurred the initials, and the more it came out as Geez, so that she sounded annoyed every time she said my name.
As if she were asking, Oh, geez, what now? Oh, geez, what were you thinking?
As if she were rolling her eyes.
As if she were tearing her hair out.
Even when she had no reason to. Only that day, I guess, she kind of did.
“Geez, come on. Open the door. I’m missing math, you know.” It was her first day of seventh grade. Mom had told her to look out for me, but she probably wasn’t expecting that Maribel would have to leave class to rescue me from a bathroom stall.
Ms. Encinas interrupted. “Maybe you should take it a little easier on her, Maribel. First days can be tough for anyone.”
“Geez, come out!”
“Can’t,” I croaked.
I cupped my hands around my mouth and yelled into the bathroom door, “I can’t!”
“What do you mean, you can’t?”
“So unlock it.”
I held my breath. The faucet drip, drip, dripped, and finally, I admitted, “Don’t know how.”
The first day of kindergarten was also the first time I had ever spent more than a few hours apart from my mom. All summer long, she had been preparing me to tie my shoelaces by myself, to punch a straw through a juice box by myself, to make friends by myself.
But until that morning at recess, I had never been inside a bathroom stall by myself. It seemed easy enough, and it was—at first. I figured out how to lock the door behind me. But not how to get back out again. I didn’t know what to do and was too embarrassed to say so.
Maribel groaned and the door shivered again as she hit her head against it.
“Oh, Geez. Okay, fine. So just crawl under.”
No way. I shook my head, even though Maribel couldn’t see me. The floor looked too dirty and damp, and I didn’t want to ruin my first-day-of-school dress.
Suddenly, Maribel’s head appeared under the door. I yelped and jumped backward, nearly falling into the toilet. Seconds later, she had slithered into the stall and was standing with her hands on my shoulders.
“Geez,” she said. “When are you going to stop being such a baby?”
“Easy, Maribel,” Ms. Encinas warned.
Maribel flipped open the lock and nudged the door open with her hip. I started to step out, but before I could, she closed and locked the door again.
“Like this,” Maribel said, demonstrating. Flip open and nudge.
The door swung open. She pulled it closed and locked it. “Try it.”
Flip open and nudge.
I unlocked the door and pushed it open with my shoulder.
“That’s it. You got it now?”
I sniffed and nodded and swiped my hand across my eyes.
When the two of us emerged for the last time, Maribel smoothed her skirt and checked her hair in the mirror, tucking a loose strand behind her ear. She stepped over to the sink, yanked two paper towels from the dispenser, and dampened them under the faucet.
“Come on,” she said. “You’re fine.” She dabbed my face and straightened my headband.
“I mean it, Geez. You’re fine,” she said again in a whisper, squeezing my hand. “I’m going back to class now.”
Ms. Encinas patted my head.
“Geez? Is that what your family calls you?” She shrugged. “Well, Griselda is an awfully big name for such a little girl, I suppose,” she said, taking my hand and leading me out of the bathroom. “Let’s get you back to kindergarten, Geez.”
I kept expecting Maribel to complain to our parents about what a baby I had been, how she had to miss class because of me. But she never told them one single thing about it.
I have been very happy with my homes, but homes really are no more than the people who live in them.
There are two ways back to the house, and all I want right now is for Maribel to choose the longer one—the one that won’t take us down West Mariposa Avenue, the street we used to live on. The street we don’t live on anymore. But Maribel is not the sort of person who wastes any time taking the scenic route, not without a good reason.
“Didn’t Mom tell us to pick up some milk?” I ask, hoping to give her one.
Maribel shakes her head. “What? No, she said she’d get some later tonight. She was going to stop at the grocery store anyway, remember?”
We drive a few more blocks, and I try again.
“Shouldn’t we get some gas, though? Mom’s going to be mad if you bring the car back empty.”
“There’s still half a tank, and anyway it’s still my car.”
Praise for The Fresh New Face of Griselda:
"Fans of Kelly Yang's Front Desk (2018) will enjoy Geez' entrepreneurial spirit and appreciate another strong-minded young woman of color seeking ways to relieve her family's financial burden. An enjoyable story about the ingenuity and bonds that help a family withstand tough times."—Kirkus Reviews
- "A warm family story."—Booklist
- "An affectionate portrayal of a Latinx family struggling with a life-changing crisis."—The Bulletin
- Praise for Stef Soto, Taco Queen:
- On Sale
- Sep 1, 2020
- Page Count
- 272 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers