A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Provides a glimpse of life on the home front: inside a USO club where young servicemen on their way to the front lines jitterbug with locals girls to the music of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Glenn Miller. Outside the club, a confusing world where Mexican Americans are considered "white" under local laws but still encounter enormous prejudice -- being punished for speaking Spanish at work or in school, only allowed in public swimming pools on Friday nights before the pools are drained, cleaned.
Truth can triumph over prejudice.
Positive Role Models
Marisela and Lorena are determined and ambitious. At a time and place where opportunities are denied them simply because of their ethnicity, they let nothing stand in the way as they fight not only for their own right to a better life but also for the rights of their fellow workers.
Violence & Scariness
While the violence before and during the Zoot Suit Riots is not graphically described, the emotional impact on the boys and men who are chased down, beaten, and arrested is vividly portrayed.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Numerous acts of violence are committed by men who are drunk.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Jazz Owls: A Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots is the latest novel from Margarita Engle, the national Young People's Poet Laureate. Set against a backdrop of the racial prejudices that inflamed Los Angeles during World War II and written in free verse, it's primarily told in the alternating voices of Mexican American siblings Marisela, Lorena, and Ray. Marisela and Lorena are "owls," girls who work all day and spend their nights dancing with sailors at a USO club. But while white servicemen might dance with Mexican American girls, their bigotry and racism still runs deep. One summer night in 1943, they go on a rampage (not graphically described) through L.A., beating up any Mexican American boy or man wearing a zoot suit -- a loose-fitting suit with wide legs and exaggerated shoulders. It's a story of the home front during World War II that's rarely told: one of families with fathers and sons serving overseas, who still find themselves "treated as invaders" by many in their community. For readers not familiar with zoot suits, ducktail haircuts, wartime USOs, or Rosie the Riveter, a quick Google image search might be a helpful first step before beginning the novel.
Is It Any Good?
This story of family, racial strife, and the meaning of patriotism is told in vibrant free verse set to the beat of swing bands and Latino rhythms. The multiple points of view and fast-paced storyline of Jazz Owls may be a bit of a challenge for some readers, particularly if they're not already familiar with zoot suits, ducktail haircuts, USO dances, or Rosie the Riveter.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.