ARC (Advance Reading Copy). To be published September 1, 2012. Scholastic Press. 205 pp.
Before I begin my review of this fiction book which has many true elements contained within it, I want to tell the world “Yo soy Puertorriqueña” (I am Puerto Rican), and I was more proud of my heritage than ever after reading Sonia Manzano’s book. Like Evelyn, I was also born and raised in NYC from Puerto Rican parents but, unlike her, never experienced life in El Barrio. Reading about life for Puerto Ricans in El Barrio (East Harlem) during 1969 was an eye opener for me, as I had not been aware of the events from Puerto Rico’s past that Manzano mentioned, nor had I known about the NYC Puerto Rican’s struggle for equal rights in El Barrio as documented through what Manzano shares in her book.
Life in the 1969 El Barrio section of Manhattan meant a whole different set of rules for the Puerto Ricans living there. Garbage was not picked up regularly by the city, leaving El Barrio to become a stinking wasteland of rotting trash. Add the lack of jobs, nutrition, and food for those struggling to make ends meet, and it all set the stage for the events which fill “The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano.”
Fourteen-year-old Evelyn’s real name is Rosa but, since one of her middle names is Evelyn and she’s tired of everything Puerto Rican, she decides to be called Evelyn. She is ashamed of her mother for being what she calls a “slave” to her work and, when her long-lost grandmother comes to visit, she is ashamed of her too. No one else’s grandmother looks like hers, and no one else has a grandmother who is a Puerto Rican revolutionary. She is not interested in hearing about stories from Puerto Rico and just wants to be free to be herself.
When The Young Lords, a group of Puerto Ricans determined to change the neighborhood for the better, turn up in El Barrio, Evelyn is ashamed of them too. However, she gradually begins to change her mind as she learns the history of her people and what they suffered during The Ponce Massacre and El Grito de Lares at the hands of those wishing to silence their pleas for freedom. She undergoes a revolution of her own in all things Puerto Rican, while learning important facts about who she is and what she wants for her future.
Sonia Manzano, who would grow up and become Maria from Sesame Street, includes an Author’s Note where she explains the facts behind this story and what it was like for her to be a part of this environment. She also includes a list of Young Lords articles for further reading to help educate readers in grades 6-10 about this period of history.
I will go on record as predicting that “The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano” will be a 2013 Pura Belpre Award Winner. It is THAT good. Remember: you heard about it here first!