Mexican Whiteboy by Matt de la Peña

Mexican Whiteboy by Matt de la Peña

Overall Rating: 4/5

Quality of Prose: 4/5

Quality of Story: 3.5/5

Quality of Characters: 4/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 4.5/5

How Long It Took Me to Finish: 4 days

A 1 Sentence Summary

Danny, a quiet, half-Mexican-half-white baseball prodigy, goes to stay with his absent father’s family for the summer, where he meets new friends, masters his pitching skills, and comes to term with his father’s absence and his own racial identity.

My Favorite Quotes

“He’s Mexican, because his family’s Mexican, but he’s not really Mexican. His skin is dark like his grandma’s sweet coffee, but his insides are as pale as the cream she mixes in.”

“I came here because sometimes I feel like a fake Mexican. And I don’t want to be a fake. I wanna be real.”

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What I Loved About It

I haven’t read very many sports-related books and have always had to look up books to recommend to my students who only want to read books about sports. I guess I always thought those athletic-teen-boy-protagonist, sports-focused books would be hard for me to relate to (as the least athletic person ever), but after reading this book, I can at least say I was very wrong about Matt de la Peña’s books. The dude is a genius. Mexican Whiteboy is phenomenal. It transcends the sports genre and even the coming of age genre to provide social commentary on race and poverty and identity and how these things are entwined, teaching teen readers so many important lessons and asking them so many important questions.

de la Peña has created an unusually relatable protagonist in Danny Lopez. Danny’s anxiety, loneliness, and confused sense of self are so typical to all teenagers and is, therefore, extremely relatable. But then it’s compounded by his biracial identity, which he struggles with because he feels like he doesn’t truly belong to either race. And de la Peña does such a good job in writing about that internal conflict and creating such a realistic teen character (and in such poignant prose too!).

What My Students Could Learn From It

I already mentioned that all of my students (regardless of their ethnic or racial makeup) could certainly relate to Danny’s struggle to understand his own identity. Many of my students could also relate to the poverty depicted in the book and the trouble each character has with understanding and being understood by their parents. Kids have got to read books they relate to or they won’t want to read, and I think Mexican Whiteboy, with its real characters and exciting baseball scenes and relatable conflicts would definitely capture their attention.

My students also desperately need to read books that give perspectives that are different from their own, racially, religiously, sexually, etc. Mexican Whiteboy is not only told from the perspective of a half-white, half-Mexican teen in Danny, but also in Uno, a half-black, half-Mexican teen. Mexican Whiteboy would certainly serve as a much needed window into these other experiences for my students and for yours too.

 

The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen by Mitali Perkins

The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen by Mitali Perkins

Guest blogger Savannah Mansour here! Thanks, Mara, for letting me steal your platform for a second. I was just too excited about this Young Adult novel; I had to share it with your readers! Enjoy France!

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Quality of Prose: 3/5

Quality of Story: 3.5/5

Quality of Characters: 4.5/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 4/5

How Long It Took Me to Finish: 3 days (~6 hours)

A 1 Sentence Summary

Throughout her grandparents’ visit in the United States from India, Sunita Sen becomes aware of differences between the “Euro-Americans” and herself in her middle school which stir her to navigate social tensions and family dynamics so she can reconcile her Indian heritage and American upbringing and therein discover and accept her mosaic identity.

My Favorite Quotes

The winding dirt path leads through the mango trees. Soft shafts of sunlight filtering through the trees have dried some of the flatter parts of the ground. The boy’s cycle speeds easily over the path, avoiding holes and muddy puddles as though it doesn’t need his help. It stops obediently when he spots a ripe mango lying on the side of the path. He peels its thin skin off with his teeth and lets the sweet juice fill his mouth.

“Don’t get disillusioned, kid. Frances Burnett was a product of her time. India was under British rule for years, you know. You can still appreciate the story.”

“I forget you’re not a little girl anymore,” she said. “Someday you may wish you had made different choices. But I suppose, in a way, you’re right. You need to find your own balance, and I need to find mine.”

“That was all he said, but Sunita wrote the gist of it in her journal later. She might need to explain it to her grandchildren someday.”

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What I Loved About It

First, I just have to say how much I enjoyed reading this book meant for children. I don’t mean to start some sort of controversy – clearly young adult novels can be read an enjoyed by all. This book was straight up my alley.

A Search for Identity                            Family Drama

Strong, Honest  BFF                             Multicultural

The best thing about this book is the perspective author Perkins lends readers through Sunita’s multicultural awakening. The emotions of this eighth grader are so genuine and relatable. (I remember, and still often find myself, navigating the mother-daughter dynamic Sunita and her mother go through in the story.)

Although I rated the prose low (and that means a lot to me personally), the quick-moving storyline and interest in Sunita’s development kept me hooked. That being said, I have genuine interest in the immigrant- and 2nd generation-American experience. This may be the case for some students with personal ties, but most of my students probably couldn’t care less.

What My Students Could Learn From It

So basically, Mara and I are besties and we just talk about our kiddos all the time. We love ‘em and want the best for ‘em and the way we know to take care of them, like many of you reading teachers, is education through reading. Contemplating the myopia that plagues many people/youth today, I realized I had learned about different people and situations by fictional experience through the pages of childhood novels. As a kid, my favorite books were the American Girl series and the Magic Treehouse series. Each book transported me to another time and place and I didn’t just read about a Swedish girl’s arrival to American who tragically lost her best friend from Cholera, but within those pages, and often my ship-shaped playground, I became that little Swedish girl.

Another difference we all like to blame for lack of empathy is the rise of (yes, social media, but punnier…) the selfie. So less reading and more taking selfies/social media/self-absorption lends to a more short-sighted perspective of the world. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but really all I’m trying to say is ultimately:

The cure for myopia is… READING!

Okay, yeah, so that was a huge tangent. I got blog happy and felt the need to explain my obsession with flooding our schools and private libraries with multicultural literature. Here’s a quote that helps me understand my feelings:

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” – Tim Keller, author of The Meaning of Marriage

To love people, or even just extend them some empathy, we must have some level of knowledge of them. Through such perspective shaping experiences, we learn truth, humility, and hope. In fact, knowing and empathizing with other people helps us know and love ourselves. I know a classroom full of students who could use more empathy, hope, truth, and humility.

So back to Sunita Sen

I would love for anyone trying to reconcile two identities within his/herself to read this book. Students experiencing that situation will feel validated rather than other-ed by this text. Students not in a similar situation will get to experience what it might be like to feel caught between two cultures. No matter your situation, there is a lot to gain from reading the story of Sunita Sen’s experience.