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Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish

Book review by
Maria Peña, Common Sense Media
Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish Book Poster Image
Boy searches for dad, finds cultural roots in moving tale.

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

Educational Value

Introduces readers to culture, traditions of Puerto Rico, references the island's rich landscape and native coquí ("co-kee"), a species of frogs endemic to the island. Eloquently weaves Spanish dialogue -- "Hola mis queridos. ¿Cómo están?" -- as story progresses, giving reader feel for culture, opportunity to learn words and expressions along with Marcus and Charlie, who don't speak the language.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about importance of family bonds, being proud of who you are, doing the right thing for others, inclusion of people with special needs, being optimistic about the future.  

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lack of positive role models for main character really stands out. Only adult in Marcus Vega's life is his mother, but she's  hardly ever home because she works long hours to support family. Marcus takes on responsibility of caring for his special-needs brother around the clock. He feels deep sense of obligation to contribute to "cookie monster cash relief jar," hence, he comes up with schemes at school to make extra money to help his mom. 

Violence
Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish, by Pablo Cartaya (The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora), is the story of a towering 14-year-old eighth-grader living in Springfield, Pennsylvania, looking to fit in and help his hard-working mother make ends meet while also taking care of and protecting his younger brother, Charlie, who has Down syndrome. After Marcus hits the school bully for calling Charlie the "R" word, Marcus' mom decides to take her sons to Puerto Rico to reconnect with family. All Marcus can think of is finding his father, who walked out on them 10 years earlier. His obsession takes the entire family on an eye-opening, heartwarming, and witty island scavenger hunt for the ever elusive dad, and Marcus and Charlie learn about a part of their culture and family. 

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What's the story?

In MARCUS VEGA DOESN'T SPEAK SPANISH, 14-year-old eighth grader Marcus gets in trouble for hitting the school bully after he called his younger brother, Charlie, the "R" word. Marcus gets suspended from school for a week, and Marcus' mom decides to take him and Charlie to the island of Puerto Rico to take a break from the stresses back home and to reconnect with family. But Marcus has another plan in mind: He's obsessed with finding his father, whom he hasn't seen in 10 years. How will he track him down? What truths will he learn along the way? Will he find the answers he's been looking for? How will this trip change his life? 

Is it any good?

This emotional roller coaster of a story about a teen boy's unexpected quest to find the father who abandoned his family hooks readers from the start. The narration is vivid, the dialogue between the characters very genuine: You can almost hear the conversations as you read them. Author Pablo Cartaya includes ​​​colorful descriptions of Puerto Rico along with insightful details of the island's culture, folklore, people, and traditions. Yes, Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish, but in the end, he completely understands it all.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the effects of bullying in Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish. How does it make Marcus feel? What should you do if you're bullied or if you see other kids being bullied? 

  • Persons with disabilities and special needs are as important as anyone else. How can people that have such differences help us see the world in many other ways we may not have thought of?

  • Have you ever felt like you don't fully understand who you are or how you fit in? What role does cultural diversity play in your life? What can you do to learn more about your heritage? Talk about fun things you can do as a family to gain new perspectives. 

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