The Closest I've Come

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
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Absorbing, realistic, hopeful tale of teen in the projects.

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

Educational Value

Coming-of-age story meant to entertain and inspire. Some cultural and geographical insight into the Tampa Bay area of Florida, especially about life and the people in housing projects there.

Positive Messages

Bad things happen in life, but they have nothing to do with you. When good things happen, hold on to them and let go of the bad. If you let people treat you badly, you feel bad, and getting treated badly starts to feel normal. You have to protect yourself, and if you need help doing that, it doesn't mean you're weak. If you don't have a support network of family or friends, you have to try harder and care more about yourself, not less. Just because you love someone doesn't mean you can make that person love you back.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Marcos (15) is a smart kid who at first does as little as possible at school because he doesn't see much use for it. He's also thoughtful, learns from his experiences. He has a crush on a classmate, genuinely wants companionship more than a physical relationship (although that would be nice, too). He feels pressure to put up a tough front, but wishes he and his friends could talk about emotions, etc., without seeming weak. Amy bravely defends herself and is a loyal, caring support for Marcos. His friends are loyal, look out for one another. His mother is shockingly uncaring about him. Evil stepfather figure is physically and verbally abusive and eventually faces consequences for his crimes.


Abusive stepfather punches, chokes, crushes, slams to the ground, punches in the testicles, and is relentlessly verbally abusive. Marcos and his friends frequently slap or punch each other and get in fights a few times. Marcos remembers finding his passed-out mother with her underwear off and a man lifting her skirt. Teens record confrontations and fights and post the videos on YouTube. Mention that in the past a gay student was bullied until he committed suicide. Some verbal hostility.


Marcos thinks about sex a lot, gets "surprise boners," thinks he's "horny" because he's never had sex, and wonders if sex hurts because of the facial expressions in the porn he's watched. He imagines his love interest, Amy, having sex with someone else. Marcos and his friends talk about "hitting that" and noticing girls' body parts. Masturbation is mentioned a few times. Mention that a 13-year-old girl is pregnant. A kiss on the cheek.


"Bitch," "f--k," "s--t," "crack whore," "p---ywhipped," "ass," "jacking off," "dumbass," "niggas," the "N" word, "damn," "f--kwad," "fapping," "butt," "skank," "a--hole," "crap," "goddamn," "spics," and the Spanish "comemierdas." Name-calling includes "f--got," "dips--t." Lots of verbal bullying. Verbal abuse when Brian asks Marcos if he's getting any "p---y," tells Marcos that he gets Marcos' mother's "p---y" every night, and praises her "snatch" to Marcos.


Lots of name-brand clothing, food, cars, beer, music artists, sodas, and other products mentioned, usually to establish location, character, or mood. Sometimes it's aspirational, such as envying someone with the latest basketball shoes.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Brian, an adult, drinks beer all day and leaves cans lying around. Marcos' mother used to come home wasted, now drinks lots of vodka and cranberry. Marcos remembers getting drunk on Coors Light and throwing up. Amy's mother gets very drunk at a school outing. An aunt pays 15-year-olds in beer for doing chores. Marcos has an occasional swig of malt liquor at a party. Friend Obie becomes a drug dealer. Marcos has tried marijuana and didn't particularly like it, but smokes it once with Amy. A teacher promised Marcos easy grades if he would connect the teacher to a local marijuana dealer. Teen makes a pipe out of a soda can to smoke marijuana. Mention of a teen committing suicide by taking an entire bottle of Tylenol PM. Cigarette smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Closest I've Come is a coming-of-age story about 15-year-old Marcos that takes an unblinking look at life in a Tampa Bay, Florida, housing project. Violence includes physical and verbal abuse that Marcos suffers from his mother's boyfriend, with descriptions of the fear, dread, and pain that Marcos endures. He and his friends also punch, slap, and get into fights. Strong language is frequent and includes "p---y," "f--k," and racial slurs like the "N" word and "spic." Sexual content is mostly Marcos wondering what sex is like, based on the pornography he's seen. Teens mention women's body parts, and there are a few mentions of masturbation, such as wondering if it makes you a "pervball" or speculating that someone is "fapping" in a bathroom. Adults abuse alcohol and teens drink beer or malt liquor a few times. A friend starts dealing drugs, and Marcos is afraid for him. Marcos and Amy smoke pot once, though Marcos mentions a few times that he doesn't really like it. Marcos is a good role model despite some misbehaving, because he's smart and thoughtful and wants to feel more connected to the world and the people around him, and because he learns from observing and thinking about things as well as from his own mistakes.

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What's the story?

In THE CLOSEST I'VE COME, high school sophomore Marcos Rivas is in danger of flunking the whole year. He definitely doesn't want to repeat 10th grade, but beyond that doesn't see much point in going to school. He'd much rather have a job so he can take his crush on a real date, get a cell phone that works, and maybe even a pair of shoes without holes. Other items on Marcos' wish list include proof that his mother cares about him, an end to the abuse he suffers at the hands of her boyfriend, and putting aside the tough facade he has to wear in the projects so that he can make real connections with people and find his place in the world. When he's placed in the Future Success after-school program, he starts to think that maybe he's smart after all, and maybe he's even a worthwhile person who can take control of his own destiny.

Is it any good?

Debut author Fred Aceves has written what he knows, and his honest look at life in the projects for 15-year-old Marcos is sometimes hard to take yet ultimately full of hope for the future. The Closest I've Come doesn't flinch from the realities of being not just broke but truly poor, as seen through the eyes of high school sophomore Marcos. Teens from any background will relate to Marcos as he struggles to understand his place in the world and seeks to make and keep deeper connections with those around him. They'll admire his growing determination not to stay stuck in the projects forever, and easily relate to the typical teen struggles he faces, like getting up the courage to talk to his crush, or the pressures from a seemingly uncaring school staff and administration.

Aceves doesn't wrap everything up in a pretty ribbon or solve Marcos' problems with a magical solution; he keeps it real all the way through. But it is ultimately a hopeful story, and one that can inspire teens to care about themselves even when it seems like no one else does.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the strong language in The Closest I've Come. Is it realistic? Does that make it OK? Why, or why not?

  • What about the violence? Is it realistic? Is reading about it different from seeing it in real life, or watching it in movies or videos?

  • Is Marcos a good role model? What are his strengths and weaknesses? How do you think things will turn out for him?

Book details

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For kids who love coming-of-age tales and characters of color

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