Review of When We Make It

When We Make It
by Elisabet Velasquez
Middle School, High School    Dial    384 pp.    g
9/21    978-0-593-32448-6    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-0-593-32449-3    $10.99

Drawing on her experience growing up in 1990s Brooklyn, debut author Velasquez paints a complex portrait of a strong-voiced teen in this compelling verse novel. Sarai, thirteen when the story begins, is poised to be the first person in her family to “make it” — to reach her potential, finish school, and leave Bushwick someday. But Sarai is skeptical: “If we can’t take no one with us? / Isn’t that just running away from everything that / made us?” The candid, clear-eyed poetry contains powerful inquiries about her diasporic Nuyorican identity and canny observations about the endemic social and racial inequities that surround her. As Sarai moves on to high school, her single mami shuffles their family from address to address, and the refrigerator is rarely full. Sarai and others in her family have unintended pregnancies, which bring complications including postpartum depression. Frank, provocatively titled poems chronicle the family’s struggles (“We’re Sorry the Welfare Office Is Closed and Will Reopen When You Have No Bus Fare to Get Here”), while others capture everyday joys with a buoyant, electric energy (“If Being Boricua in Brooklyn Is a Feeling — It’s the Best Kind”). Together, these vignettes capture Sarai’s multilayered, heart-rending, and hopeful coming of age. An afterword identifies those poems written in conversation with works by Cisneros, Woodson, Mariposa, and other greats.

From the January/February 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Jessica Tackett MacDonald

Jessica Tackett MacDonald is a collection development librarian at the Boston Public Library, specializing in youth and teen collections. She holds masters degrees in library science and children’s literature from Simmons University.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing.