YA / Realistic Fiction / Bullying
Pura Belpré Award for Narrative (2014)
I gave this book 5 out of 5 Stars
Piddy Sanchez is just a few weeks transferred-in to a new school when she is told that Yaqui Delgado wants to kick her ass. Though Piddy doesn't know Yaqui, or what she possibly could have done to set-off her wrath, she soon finds that she isn't "Latin enough" to meet Yaqui's group's standards, and besides, Yaqui Delgado doesn't need to have a reason to kick anyone's ass. At school, Piddy is becoming increasingly distracted by the harassment and her grades plummet, while at home she's trying to reconcile the information she uncovers about the father she never met with the secrets that her mother has kept. Throw into the mix problems with her two best childhood friends, and the recipe is one that seems destined to fail. Piddy is on a downward spiral, but will she find the strength to survive or will she crash and burn?
Much of this book’s appeal is in the high interest subject matter – really subject matters – of the story. We have: Piddy’s blossoming body, tension between a single mom and her only daughter, mystery surrounding Piddy’s absent father, attraction to the boy next door, domestic abuse, and bullying. Adding further to the book’s appeal, it has a Latina protagonist and authentic snippets of her Cuban culture and Spanish language to establish the setting within Piddy’s urban New York community. Author Meg Medina can write a single sentence and it encapsulates an entire scene. For example, in writing about the beauty salon, she says, “You would not believe the private stuff a woman will say when she’s in a plastic smock with a head full of foil. It’s like the chemicals are a truth serum.” Great stuff!
Medina manages to maintain a fairly straightforward bullying plot while adding in a plethora of sub-plots which only serve to enhance the story. An interesting element is that the anticipated climax of the story, when Yaqui finally attacks Piddy, isn’t really the turning-point. While the resolution wasn’t necessarily satisfying, it is realistic and readers will likely understand it. The language flows naturally and is believable for each of the characters speaking. When Piddy speaks, the language sounds like a teenage girl (“It’s like. . .”); when her mother speaks, she sounds like an opinionated, overbearing mom (“No one decent hangs out in a school yard, oiste?”) – and likewise for Lila, the principal of the school, and nosy friend Darlene – through creative language use, it is easy for readers to “hear” via the author’s language and the sprinkling of Spanish words throughout the story. Medina uses figurative language – particularly similes and metaphors – that really helps readers visualize the situations. The dialogue between characters is also natural, and the author did an excellent job of balancing how much dialogue was provided verbatim and how much was summarized. Piddy’s internal dialogue was equally well-done and added a great deal of insight into her thinking and behavior.
Readers will learn the high price paid when victims don't seek help and bullying spirals out of control, but the story is much wider than the bully line and expands into the socioeconomic realm, life with one parent, and abusive relationships. This is a story that lingers long after the reading is done.
There's some strong language in English and Spanish, some kissing and thoughts about having sex, and significant violence in the attack on Piddy plus neighbors suffering domestic violence. I'd recommend this book for ages fourteen and up.
Thank you to Candlewick Press for giving me a print copy of this book at the Texas Library Association Conference.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Meg Medina is an award-winning Cuban American author who writes picture books, middle grade, and YA fiction.
Meg’s work examines how cultures intersect through the eyes of young people, and she brings to audiences stories that speak to both what is unique in Latino culture and to the qualities that are universal. Her favorite protagonists are strong girls.
When she is not writing, Meg works on community projects that support girls, Latino youth and/or literacy. She lives with her family in Richmond, Virginia.