Barely Missing Everything

Book review by
Maria Peña, Common Sense Media
Barely Missing Everything Book Poster Image
Eye-opening tale of Latinx teen boys facing racism, despair.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers get a glimpse into the world of struggles that members of a poor Mexican American community endure. The author gives a voice to a subject that is rarely written about: young Latinx men growing up in a community where prejudice and racism permeate daily life, and the threat of violence is common. 

Positive Messages

Being a good friend means being honest no matter what, and supporting each other. Even in most difficult and bleakest of moments, you and your friend have each other to turn to. A person can overcome adversity by going back to school to pursue a better life. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

JD feels like there's no way out of his situation, feels like giving up on everything until one day, after a big blowout with his sister, he walks into Air Force recruitment office and meets Technical Sergeant Bullard, a recruiter who seems larger-than-life and has a positive, can-do attitude. Sergeant Bullard gives him advice, offers a career option in the military, opening up opportunity for JD to have a positive outcome. Fabi is trying her best to care and provide for her son. 


JD and Juan are threatened at gunpoint by a local gang more than once. Juan's mother, Fabi, is slapped in the face by her boyfriend. There's a violent fight between the two characters where they kick and punch each other to point of becoming bloodied. JD crashes his car into a tree after drinking. In an incident of police brutality, Juan is beaten, ends up in jail. A police officer kills someone.


Fabi makes sexual references about her current boyfriend.  


Strong language in English and Spanish, including "motherf----r," "bitch," "a--hole," "cabrón" "pendejo." Racist comments by police officers; one says after a character is shot, "He's probably an illegal." 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Several characters, including JD and Juan, regularly drink beer and on one or two occasions smoke weed. One of Juan's family members is an alcoholic.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Barely Missing Everything, by Matt Mendez, is the story of two Mexican American high school buddies and a single mother from El Paso, Texas, living in a low-income community where prejudice and racism abounds. The book sheds light on how brown lives struggle and what they must endure to survive. The telling of the story varies from an omniscient narrator to the three main characters themselves. Juan places his hopes on a basketball scholarship as his ticket to getting out of his situation. JD wants to become a filmmaker and documents his life any moment he can. Single mom Fabi, who had Juan when she was just 16, is caught in a situation she's not ready for. The novel takes the reader on a bumpy and often heart-wrenching ride, as readers see the consequences of choices the characters make, including situations they unwittingly put themselves in. Violence includes Fabi's boyfriend hitting her, a physical fight between two characters, a boy crashing his car into a tree, a boy beaten by police, and a character and someone killed by a police officer. Teens regularly drink beer and on one or two occasions smoke weed. One of Juan's adult family members is an alcoholic.There's frequent strong language in English and Spanish, including "motherf----r," "bitch," "a--hole," "cabrón," and "pendejo." Police officers make racist comments; after a character is shot, one says, "He's probably an illegal." 

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What's the story?

BARELY MISSING EVERYTHING chronicles the lives of two Mexican American high school buddies and a single mom in El Paso, Texas, who are trying their best to turn their lives around. Best friends JD and Juan both come from broken and impoverished homes in a poor neighborhood, where there's a palpable sense of lost hope for a bright future. Juan's mother, Fabi, is doing her best to provide for her son. Their family lives are everything but stable, and widespread racism and prejudice make it difficult for them to stay on the right path. Juan is a bright basketball player who has the potential to get an athletic scholarship to a good university. JD decides he wants to become a filmmaker. And Fabi gets in a difficult situation compounded by a series of unexpected circumstances. 

Is it any good?

This is a compelling and eye-opening story about race, economic and social inequality, and preconceived ideas about a particular group of people. Author Matt Mendez sheds light on the struggles of brown people and what people in Latinx communities constantly endure but rarely talk about. Barely Missing Everything can be hard to read at times because of the strong language, violence, and raw depictions of what the boys go through because of who they are and where they come from. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the current economic and social differences shown in Barely Missing Everything. How is your life different from or similar to the main characters' lives? 

  • Are kids of color in your school or community treated differently from white kids? What can you do to bring about acceptance and positive change?

  • Do you think all high school kids have the same hopes and fears, regardless of where they live or their socio-economic situation?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love Latinx stories and stories of racism

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