Last Updated on June 27, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 663
As a non-fiction, autobiographical work, the central character in the story is Sotomayor herself. The book begins in Sotomayor's early childhood, a chaotic time she describes as "a state of constant tension punctuated by explosive discord." Raised by her Puerto Rican parents in the Bronx, Sotomayor experienced many hardships early in life, including the death of her father and her diagnosis with type-1 diabetes, a disease that was, at the time, very difficult to manage. In part because of her diagnosis, which she thought would lead to a much shorter lifespan, Sotomayor was forced to grow up quickly. The traits she developed as a young girl—in particular, her independence and tenacity—would become the driving force behind her later academic and professional achievements. Sotomayor excelled in school, and after graduating at the top of her high school class, she attended Princeton University. Initially, Sotomayor felt out of place at Princeton, quickly realizing that her underprivileged background was very different from that of her mostly wealthy and white peers. Despite these insecurities, Sotomayor threw herself into school, vowing to become a “student for life.” After Princeton, she went on to attend Yale Law School, embarking on a legal career that would eventually lead her to the Supreme Court.
Sotomayor's mother, Celina, was a detached yet caring figure in her daughter’s life. Celina had a tumultuous relationship with Sonia’s father, Juli, and their frequent fights created a disruptive home environment for Sonia. After Juli’s death, Celina fell into a deep depression, rarely leaving her room. Though Sotomayor did not enjoy an especially close personal relationship with her mother, Celina was devoted to her children’s education and insisted on sending them to an expensive Catholic school, even though it was a financial burden. Sotomayor eventually forms a close bond with her mother, though she admits it did not come naturally to either of them: “The closeness that I share now with my mother is deeply felt, but we learned it slowly and with effort, and for fear of the alternative.”
Juan Luis “Juli” Sotomayor
Juan Luis or “Juli” was Sotomayor’s father. Though he loved his children deeply, Juli struggled with alcoholism, which complicated his relationship with his family. He frequently fought with Celina, and his addiction led to hurtful gossip from Sotomayor’s other relatives. In one instance, she recalls her feeling intense shame when she overhears her relatives talking about a time when her father passed out from drinking and had to be taken to the hospital. Juli died at age forty-two from complications related to his alcoholism. Sotomayor was only nine when her father passed away, and her youth made it difficult for her to understand both her mother’s and her own grief over his death.
Sotomayor’s paternal grandmother—referred to as "Abuelita" in the text—was a “refuge from the chaos” of Sotomayor's early home life. In contrast to her complicated and distant relationship with her parents, Sotomayor enjoyed a very close relationship with her grandmother and frequently spent time with her. Abuelita was devastated by the loss of her son Juli, but she remained an important figure in Sotomayor’s life. Through her, Sotomayor learned the value family and the necessity of having a support system. When Abuelita passes away, Sonia is profoundly distraught: “A piece of me perilously close to my heart had been amputated. The sense of loss was startling, physically disorienting.”
New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau served as Sotomayor's mentor in her early legal career. Referred to by Sotomayor as "the Boss," he is a living, legal institution in New York with a "halting, raspy voice."
Kevin Noonan was Sotomayor’s husband. They met as teenagers and were high school sweethearts. They married just before Sotomayor went to law school, but unfortunately, their marriage eventually ended in a divorce. Sotomayor attributes this, in part, to the time-consuming nature of her career and her natural independence.