By: J.R. Klein
Publisher: Del Gato
Publication Date: June 23, 2023
Reviewed by: Rebecca Jane Johnson
Review Date: August 22, 2023
Armando Ortiz is a US Citizen from Mexico who works hard nailing shingles to rooftops with an electric stapler. On top of his dangerous, excruciating daily work, he encounters abuse in the form of cans and slurs being thrown at him by angry bullies who accuse Armando of stealing jobs. At first, this all makes Armando doubt himself; fortunately, he has his wife Rosa, who immigrated from Mexico as a child with her father and her mother, who died of ovarian cancer when Rosa was only twelve. Meeting and marrying Rosa boosts Armando’s confidence. The couple builds a family and improves their circumstances. As is natural to most human beings, Armando is always striving to do good work, support his family, and preserve his dignity.
In this novel, Armando’s character and his struggles are well-drawn and clear. The novel’s perspective is humble—hardworking people determined to live with dignity. Klein’s writing is powerful, without being unnecessarily complex or inaccessible. A reader feels welcome to enjoy full sympathy for Armando, and it is easy to root for him. The troubles with immigration and workplace exploitation are handled with wisdom. When Armando’s boss treats workers unfairly, Armando remembers what his mother taught him, “when someone mistreats you, consider why” and consider if you may have done the same if you were in their place.
When Armando’s son Carlos turns fourteen years old, Armando feels ready to strike out on his own and start his own roofing company. Insurmountable challenges are faced; struggles are real. But scenes that contain descriptions of harsh work conditions and prejudiced bankers are interspersed with heartwarming family moments. Armando and his daughter, Maria, talk about her homework assignment: write an essay about Toni Morrison. Reading Morrison’s work inspires Maria’s love for reading and makes her want to work hard to achieve her own dreams of becoming a surgeon. These heartwarming moments reveal ways that emotional intelligence is needed to cope with life’s struggles. But as Armando’s mother taught him, even when work and struggles are repetitive, they are always teaching us something about life. J.R. Klein has written a story that charms with its humility while also giving a realistic view of what it is like to be a skilled worker trying to start a small business.
Quill says: All the Burning Rooftops is a necessary and accessible read that reminds us to embrace life’s complexities. This novel inspires strengthened sensibility to keep doing the challenging work of recognizing and upholding laborers’ dignity.
For more information on All the Burning Houses, please visit the website: www.johnrklein.com/