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Maria Juana's Gift: Irony with a purpose

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Maria Juana's Gift

The healthcare debate didn't start this year. It's been ongoing for decades.

It is also at the heart of Maria Juana's Gift, a new book by T. Lloyd Winetsky of Moxee.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border during the 1976 U.S. bicentennial, Winetsky calls the book a "fictional account of real incidents" involving him and his wife.

In the book, the characters Jake and Tina Friend struggle with a local doctor to get appropriate medical care for their infant daughter, Emma.

In the tug-of-war that ensues with the medical establishment, Jake finds himself tracking the doctor down during a bi-centennial parade.

Along the way, a hospital employee named Maria Juana suspects there is something seriously wrong with the baby.

But Maria's lack of English language skills and status as a custodian at the hospital cause the medical establishment to doubt Maria's - as well as the Friends' - intuition.

The book is filled with irony, as with a depiction of Jake and Tina's struggle set against a background of bicentennial fireworks.

While using irony to tackle the topic of medical malfeasance, the book also pokes at consumerism during the 1970s.

"I tried to not make it anti-patriotic, but at the same time I wanted to show all the trivial things going on in stark contrast to this couple trying to save their baby," Winetsky said.

The book also reflects the tone of the era it's set in.

"The 1960s and 70s were a time when people first began questioning authority," Winetsky says of his book. "This young couple had grown up in the 1950s when we didn't question such things."

In Maria Juana's Gift, Winetsky gracefully weaves the stories of Jake and Tina's courtship with the struggle to save their baby.

"I did that to give empathy for the couple," Winetsky says. "I think it's an interesting story about how they get together."

Not only does Winetsky do a great job of telling the story of a romantic relationship, he's able to gracefully shift gears from heart warming to heart wrenching as he depicts the healthcare battle for Emma.

The passion of a couple in love gives way to the passion of a couple trying to save their baby.

To his credit, though, Winetsky doesn't forget the details amidst the drama.

Early in Jake and Tina's courtship, for example, there is a conversation about Equatorial Guinea, described in the book as the only predominantly Spanish-speaking country in Africa.

Winetsky said he did his research about the country to confirm its status.

Like the character Jake, Winetsky is also an educator who speaks Spanish. Thus, the frequent Spanish-language references in the book are spot on.

Winetsky grew up in Los Angeles and taught in the Southwest, so descriptions of geographic terrain are up to snuff. Since the work is fictional, though, the town name of La Cholla was created for the book.

As for the title, Maria Juana's Gift takes inspiration both from the hospital worker who emboldens the Friends to fight for their daughter, as well as a gift the couple presents to Maria Juana.

Maria Juana's Gift is published by Sunstone Press.

It is the second novel in print by Winetsky, with the first being 2007's Grey Pine, a story set during the eruption of Mt. St. Helens.

A third novel, Happy Ranch to Watts, is set during the spring of 1968 against the backdrop of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.

Winetsky will be doing two book signings of Maria Juana's Gift next week.

The first is in Richland next Friday, Dec. 17, from 4 to 7 p.m. at Adventures Underground.

The second signing is next Sunday, Dec. 19, from 1 to 5 p.m. at Borders bookstore in Union Gap.

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