The Throwaway Piece by Jo Ann Hernandez 2006 Arte Publico Press
IQ "We stick with our groups because we're all people of color. They're fighting the same battles we are. We have to fight whether we're doing it for ourselves or for each other. We help ourselves when we help those from another race." Jewel pg. 141-142
The Throwaway Piece tells the story of Jewel, a State Kid (the term used throughout the book to describe children in the foster care system) in high school. Jewel's mother, Angela is emotionally unstable, always looking for happiness in the form of a man, and her latest boyfriend comes before Jewel. Jewel is used to it and knows that she will be there to pick up the pieces. Jewel bounces from foster home to foster home until she finally finds when that seems a right fit for her. However, Jewel puts herself in several opportunities where she could blow it and have to leave the foster home.
My overall complaint with this book would be relevancy and the pacing of the story. The author had various chapters in different points of view. This can provide an interesting perspective on a story, but in The Throwaway Piece it seemed jumbled. There was no smooth transition between the different POVs and I was often confused as to who was talking and I didn't understand why they were talking. The book would jump from Jewel to Mrs. Clarke's (Jewel's social worker) to Raul Ortega (in his case, I didn't understand the relevancy of his story being told so early on in the book, it should have been pushed back further to coincide with other events). Oftentimes it seemed as if the author just wanted to share the backstory of all the characters, which is fine, but it was not done in a way that made sense. The story unraveled rather slowly as well, but it did pick up later on although not as much as I would have wished, it seemed to go from slow to suddenlyreallyfastandtragiceventsmusthappen.
I also didn't like the character of Jewel all that much. She had a sad story and I understand how her family life had a negative impact on her, but she annoyed me. especially how she talked, I honestly just thought it was silly. She would say things like "I not a kid." I didn't understand Jewel's reasoning behind speaking improperly like that, it was explained but I just thought it was immature and annoying. I also have a question; Are teens really so cruel to kids in foster care? "State Kids" are treated with such contempt, stores even have policies against them being in their stores (according to the book)! I've never heard the term State Kid, but I do know kids who are in foster homes and they've never reported being bullied or facing that sort of discrimination. So am I naive and this really happens or is it pretty rare?
I did like Jewel some of the time, she was sweet deep down (as cliche as that sounds) and I loved how she tried to be a matchmaker of sorts. Jewel did have more depth to her, she loves math but she also loves to write (it's rare for a YA protagonist to love both, they are either just good at all school subjects or they love one subject and hate the rest) and she made some great insights into the hypocrisy of not just the world of high school, but the adult world. I also enjoyed how open she was to learning about other cultures, specifically the Latino culture. Most of Jewel's friends are Latino and they teach her about their culture and most of them welcome her attendance at meetings they hold to discuss issues facing Latinos. The Latino characters are not an anomaly or some exotic thing, which I really liked. They just are. These characters could have easily been written as white, but the author made me them Latino/a. The supporting cast of characters were all my favorites (except Jewel's mom), I especially loved Ronnie, a boy Jewel tutors in math. The girl main characters were not as well developed as the boy main characters, I had a much better understanding of the guys. I thought the most interesting story amongst the many being told was the story of the social worker, Mrs. Clarke.
The Throwaway Piece ends on a note of hope, though it's rifled with sadness. There are some lighthearted moments and while I often grew frustrated with Jewel and her choices, I liked the book, especially because it made some great points about how some adults treat teens (ignore them, see us as all the same). I liked the supporting cast of characters more than the main character, but I really enjoyed Jewel's poems. This book is definitely for those in high school and up as there is a graphic sex scene.
Disclosure: Sent to me for review by the author. Thank you Jo Ann!
This is poem that Jewel wrote, it's one of my favorites (pg.41)
My mouth, I'm told, is way too smart.
This is a confusing thought,
Gorwn-ups preach all the time for me
to get smart
Except when they don't like
what comes out of my mouth,
they call me being too smart.
They shake their heads and redict
how my smart mouth is going to
head me directly into trouble