I'm finally getting around to writing reviews of some of those incredible books I read during the 48 Hour Book Challenge a few weeks ago! (It takes me a while, sometimes.) Part of the reason is that I needed to process what I read - my goal during this year's challenge was to maximize my reading time, so I pretty much read straight through, with only a few stopovers on social media and other participants' blogs. And so it was one big happy blur of diverse titles, all of which I needed to digest a bit before I sat down and put fingers to keyboard.
But I definitely don't want to forget about these books, so on with the reviews. First up is a teen pick, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina. This one caught my attention when it won the Pura Belpre award last year, and kept my attention when it started being challenged for various reasons. (I kind of secretly love when a great book is challenged, because what is a more sure-fire way to guarantee that teenagers read something, than to tell them not to?). So of course I knew this was going to be a 48 Hour Book Challenge title for me, and I'm so glad I included it with my list.
The story begins when Piddy Sanchez finds out that "Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass," from some other girl she doesn't even know. Piddy doesn't know Yaqui either -- she's new at the school, hardly knows anyone -- and is equally mystified as to why this unknown stranger would want to beat her up. She's sure she doesn't want trouble, though, so she decides to avoid Yaqui at all costs. And for a while that works, as Piddy focuses on her job, school and the mystery of who her father is and why her mother never speaks of him. But then things with Yaqui start to heat up, in a serious fashion, and suddenly Piddy finds herself doing whatever she can to avoid confrontation and to find a little peace - even if that means acting out in ways she's never thought of before. What will Piddy do to cope, and can she stay out of Yaqui's way without hurting her other relationships?
OK, first of all, let's get out of the way the fact that this title has the word "ass" in it.
Yep, a swear.
If that's a stumbling block for you, well, just stop reading now.
Because if it is, I guarantee you won't want to read the honest, soul-baring novel that carries this name. Yaqui Delgado is a tough book at times, not because of language or situations but because of the real human pain that bleeds through on the pages. Piddy is a character that many kids can relate to, and her struggles are so familiar that I'd venture to guess few high schools don't have a host of Piddys walking their halls. So for me, tough as it might be, this is a book that needs to be shared because I believe it can save the lives of kids who are experiencing Piddy's problems right now.
At its core, Yaqui Delgado is a novel about bullying that stands apart from the pack, because it shows how bullying is a problem that can't be easily solved like the movie-of-the-week wants us to think. Medina doesn't shrink from demonstrating how the conflict with Yaqui, undeserved as it turns out to be, changes Piddy's life in ways large and small. That's the real tragedy, that adults in Piddy's life turn out not to recognize the issue or aren't able to help in any meaningful way. The scary thing is all the little cracks that the bullying creates in Piddy's life, causing her to make choices like pulling away from some people and drawing close to others, all in an attempt to make some sense of this relentless, controlling force. I was moved to tears at some points by Piddy's desperation, and haunted by the idea that this conflict is shaping Piddy's life in ways she will forever feel.
Medina is a powerhouse of an author, one who's not afraid to show the hard truth and pose the difficult questions. There's a complexity here that belies the simple characterization of this as a bullying book - which it is, but so much more also. Though Piddy and Yaqui are both female, both Latina, they are very different, and the conflict between them speaks to concepts of race and gender that run deep within our society. This isn't a simple story and it isn't one that wraps up tidily. But it is a truthful one, a provocative one, and a story that teens and adults need to read and share.
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina, published by Candlewick
First lines: "'Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass.' / A kid named Vanesa tells me this in the morning before school. She springs out with no warning and blocks my way, her textbook held at her chest like a shield. She's tall like me and caramel. I've seen her in the lunchroom, I think. Or maybe just in the halls. It's hard to remember. / Then, just like that, Vanesa disappears into the swell of bodies all around."