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.”

mex white boy.jpg

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.

 

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Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Quality of Prose: 4/5

Quality of Story: 4.5/5

Quality of Characters: 5/5

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

How Long It Took Me to Finish: 1 day

A 1 Sentence Summary

Out of Darkness follows four people (African-American teen Wash Fuller, Mexican-American teen Naomi Vargas, her little half-brother Beto “Robbie” Vargas Smith, and his father Henry Smith) in the months leading up to and the days following the 1937 New London School Explosion in New London, Texas, a place and time where racism, segregation, and gender inequality defined and dictated everyone’s lives (and deaths).

My Favorite Quotes

“The dead are not always right. The dead are not saints. But the dead are ours. We carry them with us, like it’s our job. And maybe it is.”

“He needs you, reader. All he asks is that you take the story up and carry it for awhile. This strange song, gathered out of darkness.”

out of darkness

What I Loved About It

Out of Darkness doesn’t feel like a YA novel. It’s gritty and real and deals with very adult subject matter (sexual abuse and rape, racism, murder, etc.) in a very mature way. And though my initial thoughts are that these qualities make it an “adult” book, the fact remains that teenagers and children dealt with these things in 1937 (2 of the central characters are teenagers and one is an 8 year old) and teenagers and children deal with these things today. The YA books that we recommend to them need to prepare them for it. I’m sure you can tell how much I love a good YA coming of age story or a fantasy or dystopian action novel just from the amount of posts on this blog about those kinds of books. And I think kids should read books like that. But I think too often we fall in love with exciting dystopian novels and forget about novels like this, novels that focus on the very dark and dim parts of history and of life.

But Ashley Hope Pérez doesn’t shy away from these dark parts of history and life. No, she shines a spotlight on them. Though many of the events and all of the characters that appear in this novel are fictional, all of them (the racist mob, the African-American scapegoat, the threat of lynching, the lack of autonomy women suffered, the unreachable and unfair gender expectations, the ongoing sexual abuse with no way out, no one to turn to for help) are things people experienced in America in the 1930s, are things people are still experiencing today. Though the characters Pérez has created live in a different time and suffer a tragedy the likes of which few of us will ever experience, they are unfailingly relatable and very human and real. Her ability to weave together a story featuring four central characters with very different motivations, struggles, and experiences in such an expert and well-fleshed out way is unparalleled and makes the story Pérez is telling that much more complex and important.

What My Students Could Learn From It

So. Freakin’. Much.

Out of Darkness opens a window for its readers into another time, another culture, another experience. This window would allow my students to understand a time that was different than ours admittedly and yet has so many similarities to our lives today. This window would allow my students to understand that despite a difference in appearance, all people have the same hurts and fears and experiences, and all people deserve to be treated like people at all times. These lessons might seem simple and yet are so misunderstood and unknown among the youth (and way too many adults) today.

This novel could also teach students about history and give them a glimpse of a historical time period that a textbook could never provide. It could teach my students to never allow this shameful piece of history to be repeated in our time today.

It’s also a complex story containing complex characters in a complex structure and can teach students a lot about text structure and point-of-view and how these elements can shape a text.

I could go on and on for ages about all the ways this novel is good for teens to read, but I have way too much work to do for my Master’s classes to go on any more. I’ll just leave it at this: read this book and tell your students to read it too!

Speaking of my Master’s classes! I’m so busy this summer with school that I’ve asked a (brilliant) friend and co-worker, Savannah Mansour, to do some of my blogging for me. Her blog post(s) should be coming soon! I’m sorry to be off the blog for awhile and will definitely miss it (and you, dear readers!), but you’re gonna love her posts (and her)!