A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a book about a teen who feels caught between two cultures. There is some gritty material, including swearing, marijuana smoking, sex talk, and most especially, violence: Amidst plenty of swearing and fistfights, there is one brutally graphic scene in which a man is beaten, probably to death, and then run over, snapping his bones. Also, Danny, unhappy with his life, cuts himself. But ultimately this is a moving and engrossing novel that will resonate with many teens. Readers who come from mixed racial or ethnic backgrounds will find it easy to relate to Danny and his feelings of not belonging in either world.
What's the story?
Danny, son of a white mother and a Mexican father, hasn't seen his dad for a long time, and doesn't really know why he left. Danny has real talent for baseball, especially pitching, but he has been cut from his team because he chokes under pressure and his pitches go wild. With his darker skin, he doesn't fit in at the upscale private school he attends. Now he's spending the summer with his cousins and uncles in National City, hoping to figure out where he belongs, and why his father left. But he doesn't feel he fits in there either, and the truth about his father is more complicated than he imagines.
Is it any good?
Author Matt de la Pena makes his protagonist real and heartbreakingly sympathetic. Inside Danny's head, his pain is very understandable, and his flailing efforts to do something about it are all-too typically adolescent.
Danny seems to have everything going for him: he's a smart, straight-A student and a gifted athlete, good-looking, with a loving, supportive family and a new rich about-to-be stepfather. And yet he's utterly miserable, so much so that he is virtually mute, and has taken to cutting himself. Danny is an unusually fully-realized character, and the author weaves his character and feelings with a level of subtle understanding rare in teen novels. One incident of violence, though integral to the plot, may seem excessively described, and readers will find it hard to put out of their heads. But de la Pena delivers exciting sports action and some terrific supporting players, especially Danny's enemy turned friend Uno, and Uno's pontificating father. This is a moving and engrossing novel that will resonate with many teens.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about being multiracial or multiethnic. What other books and movies can you think of that tackle teen with multiple identities? What are some of the common themes in these stories?
Do you think it is easier for multiracial kids today than it was a generation ago? Why or why not?
Discuss the violence in this book: Is it necessary to convey Danny's story? Is reading about violence different than seeing in a movie or experiencing it in a video game? How so?
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