“Shame the Stars” Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Rated 5 stars ***** Tu Books (Lee & Low). 2016. 288 pp. (Includes “Author’s Note”, “Book Recommendations”, “Newspaper Clipping Sources,” and a “Glossary.”)

shamethestarsBefore Texas became a territory and then a state, it was part of Mexico. As happened when European immigrants took control of land occupied by its original inhabitants, the Anglo American colonists who settled in Tejas, Mexico in the early 1800’s decided they wanted the land upon which they had settled, and fought to get it from Mexico. Ultimately the land they conquered became the state of Texas. Just as Native Americans had their lands stolen from them, so too did the Mexicans who had originally lived and farmed their own lands in Tejas for generations.

“Shame the Stars” is set in 1915, and tells the story of Tejano families struggling to understand and survive brutalities inflicted upon them by the Texas Rangers (a group of “lawmen” who randomly killed and raped Mexican Americans, imprisoning them without trial, and stealing their land.)

Joaquín Del Toro and Dulceña Villa are teenagers in love during this tumultuous time in the fictitious city of Monteseco. Though suffering from the devastation brought upon them and others by the Rangers, they refuse to keep their heads bowed low in servitude. They, and many others, determine to make a difference for their people and stand for their rights. “Shame the Stars” is their story.

This book is marketed as a “rich reimagining of Romeo and Juliet,” but I feel this simplistic overview is a disservice to McCall. “Shame the Stars” is so much more than this, as the author’s rich and powerful narrative opens the eyes of her readers to an atrocious chapter in the history of the United States that had been a secret for many years. It is closer to the history of Segregation and the crimes committed by segregationists than it is to Romeo and Juliet.

The “Refusing to Forget” Project, started in 2013, created an exhibit of this time period called “Life and Death on the Border 1910-1920.” It was on view in Austin, Texas from Jan. 23-April 3, and was a visual complement to the events in the book.

I sincerely hope McCall’s excellently written and researched book will win an award of some type at the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards in January, as it deserves a place in every high school and public library. McCall is a previous winner of the Pura Belpré award however, since “Shame the Stars” is intended for a much older audience, my fingers are crossed that it will receive a Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature from YALSA.

Highly recommended for ages 16 and older.

I received a copy of this book from Lee & Low in exchange for an honest review.


“We never asked for wings” Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. Ballantine Books. Published August 18, 2015.

WeNeverAskedForWingsLetty Espinosa never learned to be a mother to her fifteen-year-old son Alex and six-year-old daughter Luna. Ever since she got pregnant at the young age of 18, she left them with her mother so she could get drunk and go out on the town. When her parents decided to move back to Mexico, Letty is desperate.

Certain her children will come to harm if she’s in charge, Letty realizes she will have to grow up and learn how to be a mother before it’s too late. However getting mixed up with undocumented immigrants, and Alex’s first love crisis, will strain her resolve and make her realize she is not alone in the struggles of motherhood and life.

“We never asked for wings” is a heartfelt look at the struggles of a single mother as well as those of undocumented immigrants. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down.

Highly recommended for Adult readers and mature teens.

“Legend: A Harrowing Story from the Vietnam War of One Green Beret’s Heroic Mission to Rescue a Special Forces Team Caught Behind Enemy Lines” Eric Blehm

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Crown (Penguin Random House.) Published April 28, 2015. (Includes “List of Characters,”Military Terms, Acronyms, and Abbreviations,” an “Index,” and various maps.)

LegendOn May 2, 1968 Roy Benavidez, then a Staff Sergeant with the Army’s Green Beret Special Forces unit stationed in Vietnam, willingly jumped onto a helicopter to enter no-man’s-land in Cambodia where 12 men from his team were pinned down by enemy fire, sustaining heavy loss. Without thinking of his own safety, Benavidez jumped from the helicopter and into Special Forces history with his daring rescue of the surviving 8 men despite suffering devastating wounds. “Legend” tells his story, along with the years long battle to award him the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Using eyewitness accounts, archival and military records, among other sources, Blehm gives readers insight into Benavidez’s home life and what led him to become a member of the Green Berets, along with minute-by-minute accounts of the events leading up to the Special Forces unit’s foray into the supposedly neutral country of Cambodia which had been giving support to the North Vietnamese. At times the narrative becomes bogged down with technical lingo, but the urgency of battle and the story of the heroic men who suffered that day, shines through the technicalities.

Highly recommended for Adult readers.

“Muerte en Una Estrella/Shooting Star” Sergio D. Elizondo

Rated 4 stars **** Arte Público Press. 2014. 310 p. (First published in Spanish in 1984 by Tinta Negra Editores, this 2014 version contains both the original Spanish version and the English translation).

MuerteEnUnaEstrellaShootingStarIn 1968, sixteen-year-old Oscar Balboa and nineteen-year-old Valentín Rodríguez were shot in the back and killed by several Texas policemen. With a dreamlike quality, Elizondo takes readers through Oscar and Valentín’s rambling thoughts as they lay dying in the field where they fell.

Oscar and Valentín had recently arrived at Camp Gary to learn new, employable skills that would help them escape the difficult, poor paying migrant worker lives of their parents. They soon became inseparable. Valentín had a protective “big brother” outlook towards Oscar and big dreams to make something of his life. Oscar was a dreamer who loved Valentín and classical music, and was desperate to escape the fields. He was sure there was more to life than what he was experiencing, and envisioned himself in a whole new world.

Oscar and Valentín’s memories and experiences speak about the heavy prejudice and police brutality they and others experienced in Texas, while bringing readers alongside César Chávez as he worked to improve migrant worker’s lives. “Shooting Star” opens reader’s eyes to a time in Chicano history which has been largely unknown or forgotten, but is still relevant today.

Recommended for Adult readers.

“Can you see me now?” Estela Bernal

Rated 3 stars *** 2014. Piñata Books (Arte Público Press). 161 pp.

CanYouSeeMeNowAmanda’s life changed forever the day she turned thirteen. On that day, a drunk driver killed her father and her mother decided it was all her fault. Amanda had loved her father, and felt her life crumbling without his gentle, guiding hand, as her mother couldn’t be bothered to spend time with her, sending her to live with her grandmother. Being without her father and mother was hard, but dealing with the bullies at school made everything worse.

After observing the guidance counselor talking with students, Amanda decided she would look for lonely kids to counsel. It didn’t take long to become good friends with Paloma, ridiculed for wearing strange clothes, and Roger, an overweight classmate. Despite missing her father, and resenting her mother’s absence, Amanda learned to draw strength from herself and from her friends, facing life with a new outlook and finding that things aren’t always as bad as they may seem.

“Can you see me now?” shows a young girl’s struggle to reconcile with a loved one’s passing and her mother’s indifference, while trying to empathize with others’ heartaches. Amanda seems to be quite mature for her age, but her real life hopes and dreams will ring true with readers.

Recommended for ages 11-13.

“River of Angels” Alejandro Morales

Rated 5 stars ***** 2014. Arté Publico Press. 267 pp. Includes Author’s Note.

RiverOfAngelsAlex is invited to the Los Angeles Central Library to hear a famous author. Uncomfortable with the crowd Alex decides to explore, and is enthralled by photos from the 1930’s showing the construction of the city’s bridges. Lost in the faces of the Mexican workers, the present fades away and is replaced with the past world of the city of Los Angeles where Abelardo Ríos and his wife Toypurina live at their home bordering El Río de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de la Porciúncula (the Los Angeles River) in 1882.

Abelardo learned the ways of the river from his family, the local Indians and from years living at the water’s edge. After forming a successful business with his sons Otchoo and Sol ferrying visitors across the river, the impending growth of the city later led them to form the Sun Construction Company. At the time Otchoo’s name was changed to Oakley Rivers to avoid confusion over mispronunciation of his name.

In time Oakley married a wealthy banker’s wife and has a son. Raised among wealthy whites, Albert eventually falls in love with Louise Keller from a rival construction firm. She challenges him to think about his heritage and, as Albert truly understands for the first time that he is part Mexican, he soon discovers his heritage is a stumbling block to narrow-minded whites intent on keeping Mexicans and other racial groups from becoming successful. As Albert and Louise’s lives become inextricably mixed with hatred and prejudice, the love of family, friends and neighbors keep them from drowning in the depths of despair.

As Morales tells this epochal story of the union of families from different racial backgrounds, he incorporates Lizard people myths from the original Yangna Indian tribe and some fantastical elements, along with the trials, tribulations and successes of the Mexican, Chinese and African immigrants. Also included are historical accounts of events in Los Angeles, the United States and the world.

Readers learn of the many ways in which Mexicans helped create the Los Angeles of today, and gain insights into the sting of racism that, unfortunately, continues to this present time. I was not happy with the way some in the Keller family ignored the racial problem from an extended family member but I could see how Morales may have wanted to show that many people today turn a blind eye to racism, hoping it will go away if it’s ignored.

A copy of “River of Angels” should be in every public and academic library.

Recommended for Adult readers.

“Confessions of a Book Burner: Personal Essays and Stories” Lucha Corpi

Rated 3 stars *** 2014. Arte Publico Press. 242 pp.

ConfessionsOfABookBurnerLucha Corpi, formally known as Luz del Carmen Corpi de Hernandez, is a 72-year-old Chicana poet, mother, wrestler of life and dreams, author of Chicana crime fiction, and a civil rights advocate. Through “Confessions of a Book Burner,” Lucha crafts an impelling look at the hopes, fears and dreams that led to her becoming an established Chicana poet.

Through the use of flashbacks and the present time, Lucha describes the childhood she spent with her family and extended family in her beloved Mexican village of Jáltipan de Morelos, Veracruz and in San Luis Potosí where she moved when she was 8 years old. Storytelling, instrumental to learning family history in many Mexican homes, is used by Lucha to craft her own story and bring it to life for her readers. Descriptions of village life, holiday and familial customs as well the beauty of nature play large roles in her recollections.

Lucha discusses the meaning of dreams, debates whether or not the color of one’s skin defines a person, how one discovers their own destiny, and the role clairvoyance played in her life. She also recounts events in Berkeley and Oakland California during the 1960’s and 1970’s in which she participated, which weave an historical narrative of the Chicano fight for equal rights in education and in their work lives.

“Confessions of a Book Burner” is a must-have for students of Chicano history, lovers of poetry, and those interested in seeing how an immigrant from Mexico changed her world.

Recommended for Adult readers.