Picks and Pans Review: Something to Declare

updated 09/21/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/21/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Julia Alvarez

Reading Julia Alvarez's new collection is like curling up with a glass of wine in one hand and the phone in the other, listening to a big-hearted, wisecracking friend share her hard-earned wisdom about family, identity and the art of writing.

The 48-year-old author of the best-selling novel How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents serves up a blend of insights and recollections about her life as a child in the Dominican Republic, her efforts to learn English and adopt hippie fashions once she moved to New York City in 1960 and how a pudgy Dominican boy (who courted the teenage Alvarez when she returned to the island for a summer) unwittingly taught her that she had become a cultural hybrid who could never truly go home. A likable storyteller, she also writes with candor and humor about her picky eating habits, her decision not to have children and her vagabond life as a writer and teacher. "We need to tell, and we also want to know (don't we?) the secret heart of each other's lives," she writes. We do, especially when it's Alvarez doing the telling. (Algonquin, $20.95)

Bottom Line: Appealing essays in a wise and sassy voice

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