Muchacho by LouAnne Johnson 2009
IQ "Being a good example is hard work but at least it makes me feel like I'm doing something and not just taking up space. I'd like to take up a real big space someday, so big that people would have to stand back when I walk into the room, but I would act like I didn't even notice they were looking at me. That way, people wouldn't feel embarrassed and they could take a good long look at me and maybe they would see something in me that is so good I can't even see it myself."
Como se dices amazing? Muchacho! Translated: How do you say amazing? Muchacho!
Eddie Corazon is definitely one of my new favorite guy characters of all time. He's such a great kid with a lot of heart (fyi: Corazon means heart in Spanish)! Eddie is a really smart, but angry kid. He hides his love of reading and hangs out with his cousins instead. His cousins are usually in jail, or doing stuff that will result in jail time. Then Boy Meets Girl. Eddie meets Lupe. Lupe blows his mind away. She's smart, independent, beautiful and she wholeheartedly believes in Eddie. She sees potential in him that he himself does not see. Lupe is going places, with or without Eddie. She encourages Eddie to start writing poetry and not to hide his intelligence. But Eddie's cousins and friends say Eddie is "whipped", completely under the control of Lupe and who cares about school? "Gripping, thought-provoking and hopeful, MUCHACHO is a rare and inspiring story about one teen's determination to fight his circumstances and shape his own destiny." (last part is from the jacket flap).
I added that last sentence from the jacket flap because Muchacho is all that and it's a good description of how I felt about the book. In the beginning I'm not so sure I could be friends with Eddie. He's well on his way to being a juvenile delinquent, he's one of the toughest guys at school. But after he meets Lupe, he changes and I think after that change I would have been his friend. The character development in this novel was so good. It was gradual process, but not boring, it unraveled at its own pace and it was a complete delight to watch Eddie flourish. He makes mistakes, but he always gets back up ready to fight and try again. That is what makes him such an endearing character.
The dialogue is the key element that makes this book so fantastic. I talk (well not all the time)and think the way Eddie does. Especially about school. "They should teach us the stuff we really need to learn-like how to make somebody really love you, and how to turn off that little voice in your head that tells you what a loser you are, and how to teach your dog to pee where it's supposed to and how to get over being sad when your little cousin dies, and how to talk to your father without both of you getting so mad." Exactly (except for the dog part!), schools should help kids deal with the real world, teach them survival skills, especially those who live in rough neighborhoods and are barely surviving. But sometimes when schools do that, they go about unrealistically, like with abstinence (I won't even start on my rant about this, I'm saving it for my Choices review!), drugs or alcohol Like Eddie says "People shouldn't be allowed to go around telling little kids to Just Say No to drugs because that could be dangerous. Besides, Just Say No has to be one of the lamest ideas ever invented in the first place and I bet it was invented by somebody white who never had to sleep in the same bed with four other people who hardly don't ever take a shower because there wasn't anyplace else to sleep. If just saying no worked then people would go around just saying no to stuff they didn't want to do anymore. Papi could just say no to being poor and unemployed. People would just say no to cigarettes...And all those white girls wouldn't be puking up French fries in the bathroom behind the cafeteria." No offense to white people, it's not your fault really. It's just that often, white people hold the positions of power and they make unrealistic policies. Just Say No is a decent start, but after you say No, then what? You get hurt, maybe even killed. Also, I do realize that anorexia and bulimia are not just issues for white girls, but girls of color too.
Another great thing about Muchacho is all the characters. You can't hate anyone. Or even really dislike someone. All the characters give you food for thought. For example, T.J. Ritchie is a jerk but one day in class the kids are talking about a Black guy who was minding his own business, but got killed by the police right before he was to get married (I think he's referring to the Sean Bell case). The kids wonder why that kind of stuff happens and T.J. says "Because you people let it happen....I'm serious. The cops don't do nothing about it and the government sure ain't gonna do nothing about it, so the regular good black people need to do something about it." He then goes on to say the Black people should kill the cops, which I vehemently disagree with (obviously you can't kill people who wrong you!) but he has a point. People have to organize, step up and take a stand. I also like how all the characters have a story, you learn about almost all the characters mentioned.
Finally, I adore Eddie's English teacher Beecher. This review is long as it is, so I will leave you with two quotes that sum her up perfectly and explain why I love her. "Beecher was too busy trying to show us how smart we were instead of how smart she was, so by the time we wised up to how smart she was, she was already gone." And "I choose to live within the law because I could never survive being incarcerated, but if you don't mind risking your freedom in pursuit of a life that offers you fulfillment, that is your choice, However, analyzing literature will not help you become a more successful drug dealer, which is why I suggest that if you seriously wish to pursue that avenue, you focus your efforts on your criminal career. The sooner you start, the better chance you have of being successful-until you are incarcerated or killed." Brilliant response. Beecher is calm and poised. No yelling on her part, nor does she go into a state of shock or worse, denial (acting like he said nothing). This is how a teacher should be in my opinion.
*Side note: Why are the awesome teachers always English teachers? A good topic to ruminate on in a post someday.
Lupe is just fabulous. There's nothing else to say about her, READ MUCHACHO to find out more. I'm sure guys (and girls) will be laughing and nodding their heads in agreement with the thoughts Eddie expresses, especially those on dating. A must-read for all teens, but especially disadvantaged guys. High school and up.