Review of Becoming Beatriz

Becoming Beatriz

by Tami Charles

High School    Charlesbridge Teen    262 pp.    g

9/19    978-1-58089-778-5    $17.99

Charles (Like Vanessa, rev. 3/18) presents the story of an Afro–Puerto Rican teen, Beatriz Mendez, who is torn between her own desire to be a dancer and the expectations of her blood and chosen families in mid-1980s New Jersey. After the gang-related murder of her brother, Junito, Beatriz feels responsible for taking on his role as leader of the Diablos gang. Failing in school and dealing with her mom’s sadness, Beatriz sets aside her love for dance. However, when her favorite TV show, Fame, announces a casting call for extras, Beatriz must try to balance her “gang life” with her “dance life.” Can she navigate between the two, or will she finally be honest with herself and choose to follow her dreams? Through Beatriz’s voice, Charles presents a strong, smart, and sometimes snarky teenager who is trying to gain control of her choices, to finally become her true self; and whose family has encountered abuse and injustice and developed mechanisms of survival. Integral to the story are explorations of drugs and addiction and their impact on Black and Latinx communities; machismo and homophobia in Puerto Rican communities; and media and dreams as ways to escape one’s realities or to find new ones. An author’s note and information about gangs and the 1980s drug epidemic, Debbie Allen (dancer, choreographer, and star of Fame), and ACT-SO (Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological, and Scientific Olympics) are appended.

From the September/October 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Sujei Lugo

Sujei Lugo is a former elementary school librarian at the University of Puerto Rico Elementary School and currently works as a children’s librarian at the Boston Public Library, Connolly Branch. She is a doctoral candidate in Library and Information Science at Simmons University, focusing her research on anti-racist children’s librarianship.

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