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Reviews of the 2019 Belpré Author Award winners

Winner

The Poet X
by Elizabeth Acevedo
High School     HarperTeen     361 pp.     g
3/18     978-0-06-266280-4     $17.99
e-book ed. 978-0-06-266282-8     $9.99

Fifteen-year-old Xiomara, whose name means “one who is ready for war,” has been fighting her whole life. The self-described “brown and big and angry” Dominican girl from Harlem furiously confronts catcalling boys, chafes under her Catholic parents’ restrictive rules, and both adores and resents her “genius” twin brother, who seems to be everything she’s not. She finds moments of peace by writing in her poetry journal, joining a spoken-word poetry club, and exploring a blossoming romance with Aman, her science partner. The slow-burning suspense of what will transpire when devout Mami discovers Xiomara and Aman’s clandestine relationship is eclipsed only by the devastation that occurs when Mami finds and reads Xiomara’s candid journal. But Xiomara must brave Mami’s ire if she is ever going to realize her writing dream. Spoken-word artist Acevedo’s debut verse novel is an arresting portrait of a young poet coming into her own. In nearly every poem, there is at least one universal truth about adolescence, family, gender, race, religion, or sexuality that will have readers either nodding in grateful acknowledgment or blinking away tears. “It almost feels like / the more I bruise the page / the quicker something inside me heals.” JENNIFER HUBERT SWAN

From the March/April 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

Honor Book

They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid’s Poems
by David Bowles
Middle School     Cinco Puntos     109 pp.     g
9/18     978-1-947627-06-2     $18.95
Paper ed. 978-1-947627-07-9     $12.95

The dynamic complexity of the Rio Grande borderlands pulses in the poetry of twelve-year-old Güero — a nickname commonly given to light-skinned, freckled Mexican and Chicano boys. Inspired by the words of his seventh-grade teacher, Ms. Wong, who declares poetry to be the “clearest lens for viewing the world,” Güero sets out to record everything he sees around him. His forty-nine poems capture the heat and exhilaration of bottle rocket fights at the family Fourth of July barbeque; his close friendship with the “Three Bobbys,” a.k.a. “The Bookworm Squad”; and his uncomplicated young love for tough-girl Joanna. Central to Güero’s world is the dexterously rich linguistic tradition of Mexican cuentos and dichos, and readers hear vivid stories about, for example, “la Mano Pachona,” the dismembered and hairy hand, famous in the pantheon of supernatural lore (which here haunts the school toilets). The poems also touch on racism and how Güero’s family expects him to “push right through them gates / …Represent us, m’ijo, / all the ones they kept down. You are us. / We are you.” Bowles confidently intersperses the voices of Güero’s many family members, using Texas Spanglish colloquialisms with specificity (back matter includes a generous glossary and pronunciation key), in diverse poetic forms, resulting in a welcome contribution to the bildungsroman corpus of Chicana/o literature. LETTYCIA TERRONES

From the November/December 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

For more, click on the tag ALA Midwinter 2019.

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