Review of The Insiders

The Insiders
by Mark Oshiro
Intermediate, Middle School    Harper/HarperCollins    384 pp.   g
9/21   978-0-06-300810-6    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-300812-0    $8.99

Héctor Muñoz’s life is upended when his family relocates from San Francisco to the ­Sacramento suburbs. He enters his new middle school with high hopes of finding his people in the drama club, only to realize that his new school is nothing like his old one, which was more diverse and accepting. Accustomed to bold fashion choices and having a larger-than-life presence, Héctor quickly finds himself at the “Table of Misfits” in the cafeteria. After he is bullied for being openly gay and Mexican American, Héctor discovers an unexpected escape in the form of a janitor’s closet. The room turns out to be a magical portal to respite when it’s needed — and also a means of support, as the portal transports students in similar situations from other schools to the same room. Oshiro brings readers close to the protagonist — and to common middle-school ­experiences — through a running narration of Héctor’s internal dialogue. The story is infused with thoughtful references to Mexican American life in California, from Héctor’s learning how to make tamales from his abuela to chilled glasses of horchata providing just what the doctor ordered while he hides from his tormentor. The story’s plot is fantastical, but the lessons imparted about standing up for yourself and asking for help will resonate with anyone who has experienced bullying. An appreciation of intersectional identity and a story of resilience.

From the November/December 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Nicholas A. Brown

Honduran-American librarian and arts producer Nicholas A. Brown is the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System’s chief operating officer for communication and outreach, an adjunct faculty in library and information science at The Catholic University of America, a District of Columbia Library Association past president, an ALA Rainbow Round table member, and a former Library of Congress music specialist.

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