Rated 5 stars ***** 2014. Candlewick Press. 260 pp.
This book won the 2014 “Pura Belpre” Author award and, once you read this powerful story, you will see why it was a wonderful choice. Don’t be turned off by the title, as the power of those 7 words tell a story of its own.
Piddy Sanchez is about to turn 16, but, as far as she’s concerned, her life is over. It’s bad enough her best friend Mitzi moved out of their Queens neighborhood all the way to Long Island but now her mother decided to move too – right at the beginning of her sophomore year. Piddy was a top student with plans to go to college and study elephants, but now has to leave her friends and start all over at a school where she doesn’t know anyone.
After just five weeks, Piddy gets the news that someone named Yaqui Delgado wants to kick her ass. Piddy is puzzled since she doesn’t even know her, but soon Yaqui becomes her worse nightmare. Yaqui and her group of Latina girls don’t like Piddy because she’s white (even though she’s Cuban), shakes her butt too much (Piddy didn’t even think she had a butt), and she talked to Yaqui’s boyfriend (two boys whistled at her one morning at school, so Piddy guesses that must have somehow counted as talking.)
Through the constant bullying Piddy refuses to tell any adult what is happening, as she’s afraid of being labeled a “narc.” She tries to change her outward appearance, argues with her mother, and her grades start to fall. After being savagely beaten she starts cutting school with Joey, a troubled boy from her old neighborhood. Piddy’s and Joey’s lives are held in stark contrast, yet hold great similarities, as both struggle to live in a world that’s forced them to grow up before their time.
Feeling abandoned by the father she never knew, misunderstood by her mother, and adrift in a sea of confusion, Piddy is filled with questions. Should she let herself turn into the same type of Latina girl as Yaqui and her friends, forsaking her own goals for college? Would it be better to run away and drop out of school? Should she turn her back on her music, and her culture to reinvent herself?
Medina has crafted a novel of family, love, strong Latina women, and courage. Similar to a character in Laurie Halse Anderson’s wonderful novel “Speak,” Medina shows the inward power and strength that comes from speaking about injustice. I wish someone had shown me how to speak of my injustices while suffering through bullying from grades 3-10, and I sincerely hope Medina’s readers will gain strength from Piddy’s story to speak about their own.
Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.