Description (From GoodReads):
There are two secrets Evelyn Serrano is keeping from her Mami and stepfather. Her true feelings about growing up in her Spanish Harlem neighborhood, and her attitude about Abuela, her sassy grandmother who’s come from Puerto Rico to live with them.
Then, like an urgent ticking clock, events erupt that change everything. The Young Lords, a Puerto Rican activist group, dump garbage in the street and set it on fire, igniting a powerful protest.
When Abuela steps in to take charge, Evelyn is thrust into the action. Tempers flare, loyalties are tested. Through it all, Evelyn learns important truths about her Latino heritage and the history makers who shaped a nation.
Infused with actual news accounts from the time period, Sonia Manzano has crafted a gripping work of fiction based on her own life growing up during a fiery, unforgettable time in America, when young Latinos took control of their destinies.
This book accomplishes something that no other young adult book I know about does: it tells the story of the Puerto Rican Civil Rights Movement during the late 1960s in New York City, while contextualizing it within Puerto Rico’s own tumultuous history. The majority of the time when we teach about the Civil Rights Movement, it’s limited to a few famous African-Americans. While this certainly doesn’t do justice to the widespread social activism of the African-American community and its supporters, it also leaves out Latino/a involvement in this same social movement.
The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano is a quick, easy read for younger readers (Grades 5 and up; I’d say even earlier if used as a read aloud) that teaches a piece of the Civil Rights Movement which is frequently non-existent in our classroom curricula. Often times, if our students do learn about Latino/a activism, it’s through a figure like Cesar Chávez, or focused on the on going debates around immigration. How often do our students learn about Puerto Rico? I never remember it being mentioned when I was in school, and, if I’m honest, I left it out of my own curriculum when I was teaching. Manzano’s website includes a section of newspaper articles and photos from 1969, which not only affirm the historical facts behind the book, but also provide students a sense of how the events discussed in the book were portrayed in the media (found at: http://therevolutionofevelynserrano.com/clippings.html).
Aside from the educational historical context, it’s a beautiful story of three generations of mother-daughter relationships. Told from Evelyn’s point of view, we see how Evelyn’s own political and social consciousness unfolds in tandem with her growing understanding of both her mother and her grandmother. Evelyn’s first description of her mother reveals the tension frequently common between teenage daughters and their mothers: “Why did Mami always have to be so beggy? I hated that beggy voice of hers. She sounded like a slave” (p. 1). Then, Abuela shows up to stay at their apartment: “At the kitchen table sat a woman whose eyebrows were drawn on with a black make-up pencil. On her eyelids was a thick spread of eye shadow the same blue as my snow cone. The woman’s lips were as pink as the inside of a seashell. And, oh, her hair—it was as orange as Bozo’s puffed up and piled on top of her head. . .” (p. 26). Not surprisingly, there’s also tension between Mami and Abuela. But, as Evelyn grows closer to Abuela and learns more about her Puerto Rican heritage through Abuela, she also comes to understand more about Mami and why “She was always covering up what she didn’t want to see, or putting something pretty on top of something ugly” (p. 5). Just as Evelyn is shaped by the historical context of her own life and the events she experiences, she realizes that the same is true for Mami and Abuela, and she comes to accept and appreciate them both for who they are. In learning about her mother and grandmother, Evelyn begins to understand her own history as a Puerto Rican-American and connects this to her own social activism. As Evelyn becomes more involved with the Young Lords, her world view expands as she learns what it means to be part of a community.
One of my favorite elements of the book is Manzano’s descriptions. Like the quotes referred to above, Manzano’s words do an excellent job of painting pictures in the reader’s mind. Her descriptions of El Barrio really give students a sense of what Evelyn’s New York City was like—the smells, the music, the buildings, and the people are described in vivid detail. At times, the dialogue felt a little stilted, but as an adult reader, I may be looking for something that younger readers probably wouldn’t notice. It certainly isn’t enough to keep me from recommending the book. I hope it’s one of those books that makes it onto our bookshelves and into our classrooms and libraries.
The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano received great recognition as the 2013 Américas Award Winner and a 2013 Pura Belpré Honor Book. I hope you’ll consider adding it to your classroom library. Click here to be taken to our Educator’s Guide for the book.
If you’d like to read what others have thought about the book check out the links to other reviews below:
- CBC Diversity Book Spotlight: A Coming of Age Nuyorican History Lesson
- Slatebreakers Review
- Kirkus Review
And to hear more about what the author has to say on the novel, writing, and publishing, check out:
- Q&A: Sonia Manzano on Identity Politics, the Bronx, Bloomberg, and Raising Kids
- Latino Writings Address Publishing Challenges
- Sonio Manzano Reminds East Harlem of the Young Lords Party
- Sesame Street’s Sonia Manzano Gets Political With New Novel
If you’re an Albuquerque local I hope you’ll join us Monday October 7th at Bookworks from 5-7 for some coffee and conversation about The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano!