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Reviews of the 2018 Belpré Author Award winners

Winner

Lucky Broken Girl
by Ruth Behar
Intermediate    Paulsen/Penguin    237 pp.    g
4/17    978-0-399-54644-0    $16.99

In this novel based on the author’s childhood, Ruthie is just ten years old in 1966 when she arrives in Queens from Cuba with her little brother and parents. Because she only speaks Spanish, she is placed in the fifth-grade “dumb” class. Over the next eight months Ruthie’s English improves, she becomes the neighborhood hopscotch queen, and she’s ready to move out of the remedial class. Life is looking up, but then everything comes crashing down when she breaks her leg in a car accident, requiring a full-body cast. Immobile in bed for almost a year, Ruthie is dependent on her mother for everything, and as the months pass, feelings of anger, loneliness, and despair fill her heart. When her next-door neighbor introduces her to drawing and painting, her attention refocuses and she begins to heal emotionally. As she attempts to learn how to walk again, Ruthie finds that friends, family, and the ability to look beyond the present into the future can help turn her “brokenness” into wholeness. Through an unflinchingly honest first-person narrative, readers are taken through a traumatic period in the author’s life (an appended note provides more context and encourages readers to “speak up. Tell your story”). Effectively scattered Spanish phrases lend authenticity, while period references evoke the 1960s setting. ALMA RAMOS-MCDERMOTT

From the July/August 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

Honor Books

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora
by Pablo Cartaya
Middle School    Viking    248 pp.
5/17    978-1-101-99723-9    $16.99

Thirteen-year-old Arturo Zamora is part of a large, Miami-based extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins led by matriarch Abuela. As a young woman, she emigrated from Cuba with her husband (now deceased) and founded La Cocina de la Isla, the family restaurant, which is not only a famous establishment in the Miami food scene but also a mainstay of the neighborhood. Now in failing health, Abuela has passed the management of the restaurant to Arturo’s mother. Arturo is looking forward to his first job in the family business, but he’s nonplussed when he finds out that it’s washing dishes. He’d rather spend the summer hanging out with his best friends, Bren and Mop; flirting with his first crush, Carmen, and learning the poetry of José Martí to impress her; or reading the letters left for him by his late abuelo. But when scheming real-estate developer Wilfrido Pipo proposes to build a mixed-use high-rise development that would close La Cocina, the entire Zamora family mobilizes to win the neighborhood’s support, and Arturo and Carmen are right in the thick of things. Arturo narrates his story with liberal doses of Spanish, untranslated and non-italicized, adding a welcome and authentic texture to Cartaya’s debut novel about a young boy on the cusp of adolescence, dealing with friends and girls (and possibly a girlfriend!), his place in his family, and his family’s place in his community. More, please. JONATHAN HUNT

From the July/August 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

The First Rule of Punk
by Celia C. Pérez; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School    Viking    319 pp.    g
8/17    978-0-425-29040-8    $16.99

[Books by Horn Book reviewers are not reviewed; we provide notice of publication and descriptive comment.]

The first rule of punk is to be yourself, but it’s hard for Malú, the bicultural daughter of divorced parents, to know exactly what that means. Her white dad doesn’t understand her internal struggles with her Mexican American identity, and her mom would rather Malú were more “señorita” than punk. Starting a band becomes a chance to explore her heritage as well as her musical interests. Eight-page “zines” featuring Malú’s collages punctuate the text.

From the July/August 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

For more, click on the tag ALA Midwinter 2018.

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