Book Review: Gabi, A Girl in Pieces

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces
Written by Isabel Quintero
Published by Cinco Puntos Press 2014
ISBN:  1935955950
Age Level: 14 and up

Book Summary:

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

July 24

My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it’s important to wait until you’re married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.” Eyes open, legs closed. That’s as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don’t mind it. I don’t necessarily agree with that whole wait until you’re married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she will think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White.

My Thoughts:

Over the last six months rave reviews of Isabel Quintero’s Gabi, A Girl in Pieces were popping up everywhere. As excited as I was to finally read it, I was also a little hesitant. I didn’t want to be disappointed by expectations that were set too high. I had nothing to worry about. Told from Gabi’s point of view, the book is honest, authentic, endearing, and funny. I enjoyed the book so much that I was sad to see it end. I’m fairly certain that my neighbors may think I’m crazy now, as I sat on my porch cackling out loud as I read it. Continue reading

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Book Review: He Forgot to Say Goodbye

This is a review of one of last spring’s featured books.  I got a little behind, so I decided to wait to share it until we were back posting regularly. It actually worked out better than I could have hoped because this book pairs up so well with our September featured novel, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces.  They’re both written in a journal or diary like confessional style, but this one has two male protagonists, while Gabi has a female protagonist.  It’d be great to have your class read both and do a comparative analysis.

He Forgot to Say Goodbye
Written by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published by Simon and Schuster 2010
ISBN:

Age Level: 12 and Up

Book Summary:

Ramiro Lopez and Jake Upthegrove don’t appear to have much in common. Ram lives in the Mexican-American working-class barrio of El Paso called “Dizzy Land.” His brother is sinking into a world of drugs, wreaking havoc in their household. Jake is a rich West Side white boy who has developed a problem managing his anger. An only child, he is a misfit in his mother’s shallow and materialistic world. But Ram and Jake do have one thing in common: They are lost boys who have never met their fathers. This sad fact has left both of them undeniably scarred and obsessed with the men who abandoned them. As Jake and Ram overcome their suspicions of each other, they begin to move away from their loner existences and realize that they are capable of reaching out beyond their wounds and the neighborhoods that they grew up in. Their friendship becomes a healing in a world of hurt.

My Thoughts:
Continue reading

Book Review: The Meaning of Consuelo

meaning of consueloThe Meaning of Consuelo
Written by Judith Ortiz Cofer
Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux  2003
ISBN: 9780807083871

Age Level: Young Adult Fiction

Book Summary:

The Signe family is blessed with two daughters. Consuelo, the elder, is thought of as pensive and book-loving, the serious child-la niña seria-while Mili, her younger sister, is seen as vivacious, a ray of tropical sunshine. Two daughters: one dark, one light; one to offer comfort and consolation, the other to charm and delight. But, for all the joy both girls should bring, something is not right in this Puerto Rican family; a tragedia is developing, like a tumor, at its core.

In this fierce, funny, and sometimes startling novel, we follow a young woman’s quest to negotiate her own terms of survival within the confines of her culture and her family.

My Thoughts:

In reflecting on The Meaning of Consuelo, Julia Alvarez expresses what one finds at the heart of the book that makes it both beautiful and sad at the same time: “A bittersweet tale of the price one pays to re-invent the story handed down by one’s antepasados and familia. Consuelo is both herself and every mujer, and her story her own and that of her island, torn between self-discovery and safety.”

Continue reading

Book Review: Mexican Whiteboy

Mexican whiteboyMexican WhiteBoy
Written by Matt de la Peña
Published by Ember
ISBN: 9780440239383
Age Level: 14 and up

BOOK SUMMARY

Danny’s tall and skinny. Even though he’s not built, his arms are long enough to give his pitch a power so fierce any college scout would sign him on the spot. Ninety-five mile an hour fastball, but the boy’s not even on a team. Every time he gets up on the mound he loses it. But at his private school, they don’t expect much else from him. Danny’s brown. Half-Mexican brown. And growing up in San Diego that close to the border means everyone else knows exactly who he is before he even opens his mouth. Before they find out he can’t speak Spanish, and before they realize his mom has blond hair and blue eyes, they’ve got him pegged. But it works the other way too. And Danny’s convinced it’s his whiteness that sent his father back to Mexico.  That’s why he’s spending the summer with his dad’s family. Only, to find himself, he may just have to face the demons he refuses to see–the demons that are right in front of his face. And open up to a friendship he never saw coming.  Set in the alleys and on the ball fields of San Diego County, Mexican Whiteboy is a story of friendship, acceptance, and the struggle to find your identity in a world of definitions.

My thoughts:

This was one of those books that I didn’t like the first time I read it, but I loved the second time through. In all honesty, my first impression may be due more to secondary factors influencing my experience than the book itself. Since I always read everything at least twice before writing a guide, I thought I’d listen to the audio version of the book the first time through while driving back from Tucson. The audio version does not do de la Peña’s writing justice. I only made it through about 40 pages before I had to turn it off, and unfortunately I think this really tainted my opinion of the book. I waited a few weeks before starting the guide, and as I read the book a second time through, it was like an entirely different experience. I could go into more detail about why I think this is, but for the sake of time I won’t. I mention it here only because I hope that if you read it once and aren’t entirely sold, that you’ll give it a second chance. It’s a book that engages with issues that we rarely see in our classroom literature (I’ll talk more about this below). It’s also a book that is resoundingly well-received by students. Over and over we hear from teachers across the country who all say it’s one of their students’ favorite books.

Continue reading

Book Review: La Línea

La Linea by Ann JaramilloLa línea
Written by Ann Jaramillo
Published by Roaring Book Press, 2006
ISBN: 9780312373542
Age Level: 10 and up

BOOK SUMMARY:

Miguel’s life is just beginning. Or so he thinks. Fifteen-year-old Miguel leaves his rancho deep in Mexico to migrate to California across la línea, the border, in a debut novel of life-changing, cliff-hanging moments. But Miguel’s carefully laid plans change suddenly when his younger sister Elena stows away and follows him. Together, Miguel and Elena endure hardships and danger on their journey of desperation and desire, loyalty and betrayal. An epilogue, set ten years after the events of the story, shows that you can’t always count on dreams–even the ones that come true.

My thoughts:

La Línea is about the journey of two young teenagers trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border to be reunited with their family in California.  It’s an incredibly poignant and moving novel.  The trip North is hard for Miguel and Elena, and it’s not always easy to read about what the two had to endure.  I certainly cried through a number of parts.  It’s difficult to read about how dehumanizing and traumatic the experience is.  While it’s fiction, it’s based on the lived experiences of some of Jaramillo’s own students.  Knowing how close the story is to the accounts of many immigrants makes the reading even more intense.  Jaramillo manages to communicate the danger, violence, and sacrifice while avoiding overdramatizing the emotions, which allows the story to remain accessible both to students who have had similar experiences as well as those who haven’t. Continue reading

Book Review: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

Yaqui DelgadoYaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
Written by Meg Medina
Published by Candlewick Press, 2013
 ISBN: 9780763658595
Age Level: 13 and up

BOOK SUMMARY:

One morning before school, some girl tells Piddy Sanchez that Yaqui Delgado hates her and wants to kick her ass. Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui is, never mind what she’s done to piss her off. Word is that Yaqui thinks Piddy is stuck-up, shakes her stuff when she walks, and isn’t Latin enough with her white skin, good grades, and no accent. And Yaqui isn’t kidding around, so Piddy better watch her back. At first Piddy is more concerned with trying to find out more about the father she’s never met and how to balance honors courses with her weekend job at the neighborhood hair salon. But as the harassment escalates, avoiding Yaqui and her gang starts to take over Piddy’s life. Is there any way for Piddy to survive without closing herself off or running away? In an all-too-realistic novel, Meg Medina portrays a sympathetic heroine who is forced to decide who she really is.

My Thoughts:

As a reader, I’m usually drawn to fantasy. Many of my favorite books fall into the genre of magical realism. But, as I began to think about writing a review of Meg Medina’s most recent book, I realized that many of the most moving and memorable young adult books I’ve read over the past few years have been realistic fiction, not fantasy. At first, I was surprised, but as I thought about this change more, it made sense. It’s not easy to write genuine realistic fiction—a story where the characters are authentic, and where everything doesn’t end up working out perfectly, all tied up just a little too neatly. It’s quite a feat to write a story that actually represents the reality of our students, to write protagonists and antagonists that the students recognize. When a writer manages to do this, the resulting book isn’t one that can be easily forgotten. Meg Medina has done just this with Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. It’s a book that should be in every high school library. Continue reading

Our Next Goodread. . .Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

We’re almost back from our summer hiatus, but wanted to post this announcement for our first book group meeting of the new school year.  We are so excited for the upcoming year!  I’m really looking forward to talking with you all about this month’s selection.

Join us September 8th at Bookworks from 5:00-7:00 pm to discuss our next book.  We are Yaqui Delgadoreading Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass (Ages 13 and Up) by Meg Medina.

Here’s a sneak peek into the book: (from Goodreads)

One morning before school, some girl tells Piddy Sanchez that Yaqui Delgado hates her and wants to kick her ass. Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui is, never mind what she’s done to piss her off. Word is that Yaqui thinks Piddy is stuck-up, shakes her stuff when she walks, and isn’t Latin enough with her white skin, good grades, and no accent. And Yaqui isn’t kidding around, so Piddy better watch her back. At first Piddy is more concerned with trying to find out more about the father she’s never met and how to balance honors courses with her weekend job at the neighborhood hair salon. But as the harassment escalates, avoiding Yaqui and her gang starts to take over Piddy’s life. Is there any way for Piddy to survive without closing herself off or running away? In an all-too-realistic novel, Meg Medina portrays a sympathetic heroine who is forced to decide who she really is.
Continue reading

WWW: PBS Documentary – “The Graduates / Los Graduados”

The GraduatesChastity lives with her mother and three brothers in a homeless shelter in the Bronx. She’s trying to graduate high school. Her mother, who dropped out of school, explains: “She sees exactly what happens if you don’t have an education. She sees that. She loves school; thank god she loves school. . .”

Chastity’s story is featured in Part I of the Bernardo Ruiz documentary, “The Graduates,” which aired on PBS on Tuesday. The 55 minute video is now available to stream online in English and Spanish. Part I, titled “The Girls,” gives first-hand accounts of challenges facing Chastity and other Latinas who fight through discouragement, discrimination, poverty, pregnancy, and violence to receive their diplomas.

The film intersperses the girls’ stories with commentary from family members, school officials, social workers, activists, and San Antonio’s Mayor Julián Castro. The end result is an illuminating and genuine tearjerker that made this blogger grateful for his relatively cushy high school experience.  Continue reading

Book Review: Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood–Our Mexican Graffiti

"Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood," written by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood is the story of one teenage boy’s coming-of-age, but at the same time, it’s so much more than that.  Denise Chávez explains, “Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood is our American Graffiti. No, that’s not right. It’s our Mexican Graffiti.”  It’s a statement about life—life as a Mexican teenager living in a small town in the United States in the late 1960s.  Sammy Santos lives in the Hollywood barrio of Las Cruces, New Mexico.  The novel is the story of his senior year of high school—the year he must deal with the violent death of his girlfriend, the reality of the enduring poverty of his family, the racist policies of his high school, and the consequences of the Vietnam War.  While set in the 1960s, it’s a book that I believe will speak strongly to our students today.  In fact, I wish I had read this book sooner, before my years as a middle school teacher.  I saw older versions of my students in its pages. Continue reading

Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood: Resources, Blogs, and other Thoughts

As you’ve probably read, we’re highlighting Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood for our August book group meeting.  The winners of our Book Give Away will be announced later this afternoon!! We’ll be posting our own review and our Educator’s Guide in the next two weeks, but I thought I’d share what other reviewers and bloggers have said about the book below.

Reading in Color is a great blog.  What makes it even better, is that it is written by a teen!! To give you a better idea of the purpose of the blog, I’ve shared the author’s own words below–

“Reading in Color is a book blog that reviews YA/MG books about people of color
(poc). There is a serious lack of books being reviewed by teens that are YA/MG
about people of color, I hope my blog is one step closer to filling in this
void.
I started Reading in Color after I discovered the wonderful
world of book blogs. I loved being able to discuss books with fellow book
lovers. But I soon noticed that very few books about POC were being reviewed. I
wanted recommendations of YA books about POC, sometimes I got tired of reading
about the white norm. So I started this blog to get recommendations about YA
POC and share them with others. After all, I couldn’t be the only teen of color
who felt this way? Since starting my blog, I’ve been including MG that features
POC.”

How often do we wish we’d know what our teen readers think about a book before we use it in class the first time? Here you can! Reading in Color reviewed Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood! Check it out to see what they said!

Three other blogs I really like also reviewed the book, so I’ve linked to them below. I hope these will give you a better sense of the book and it’s potential value if you’re considering reading it and/or using it in your classroom.