I’ve done this a couple of times before, so there’s not a lot to explain here. The idea is to knock out a few reviews of books I read for social justice class this summer. Without further ado, let’s get to it.
Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Peña
Danny might be tall and skinny, but he’s got a mean pitch when he’s playing baseball. He’s got so much power, it’s not unusual for him to get a ball up to 96 mph, but he’s not even on a team. He chokes every time he steps up to the pitcher’s mound. It doesn’t help that he doesn’t fit in at his private school. He’s half-Mexican, which means that he doesn’t fit in with the white kids. But he doesn’t speak Spanish, which means he doesn’t fit in with the Mexican kids, either. Spending the summer with his dad’s family means he might have to confront some of the demons that have been haunting him since his dad went back to Mexico.
I was surprised by how much I liked de la Peña’s Mexican WhiteBoy, especially considering how much of it deals with baseball. This is an extremely well-written book, and the characters that populate it are fully-formed, flawed, and fascinating (how’s that for some alliteration?). One of the books that has been banned in Arizona (for promoting critical race theory), this is a book that will work well for reluctant readers and fans of gritty contemporary YA alike. It’s a must-read for anyone who wants to explore issues of race, identity, and family.
Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez
Jason, Kyle, and Nelson all attend the same high school and are all struggling with their sexuality. Although each boy has problems of his own to work through, the three teens band together to start to figure out life, themselves, and love.
Arguably one of the first mainstream novels to feature homosexual protagonists, Alex Sanchez’s Rainbow Boys is considered cannon in the GLBTQ literature world. The problem is, that it’s extremely problematic. Nothing about this novel worked for me, from the amateurish writing to the meandering plot. There’s also the fact that the book reinforces some damaging stereotypes about gender and masculinity and femininity. While the book certainly has its fans, I’m not one of them, and this book feels dated (it was published in 2000).
(And yes that is Matt Bomer on the cover.)
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
Marcelo can hear music no one else can hear. It’s part of his impairment–similar to Aspberger’s–that no doctor has been able to fully diagnose. Marcelo goes to a special school and has always been fairly insulated from the real world. But the summer before his senior year of high school, Marcelo’s father tells him he’s going to spend the summer working in the mail room of his law firm. Marcelo has no choice in this, and it is there that he’s thrust into the real world.
Beautifully written with a fairly authentic voice in Marcelo, Stork has crafted a novel that should resonate with most readers. Marcelo’s voice is absolutely charming, and the characters that populate his world (with a few exceptions) are well-drawn, realistic, and fascinating.
It’s impossible not to root for Marcelo in this novel, and while it raises some difficult questions, it doesn’t offer any easy answers. I really loved this one, Gentle Readers. Highly, highly recommended.
That’s it for this installment of Quick-and-Dirty Reviews.