review: Pig Park

"I confess. I'm a glutton. This book had me at the cover. That image of a delicious marranito? I can imagine the moist cake-like center, the smell of molasses. I love this cover. I want to eat this cover. "

“I confess. I’m a glutton. This book had me at the cover. That image of a delicious marranito? I can imagine the moist cake-like center, the smell of molasses. I love this cover. I want to eat this cover. “~All Brown All Around Blog

Title: Pig Park

Author: Claudia Guadalupe Martinez

Date: Cinco Puntos; 2014

Main Character: Masi Burciaga

Masi is a 15 year old growing up in an area outside Chicago known as Pig Park. This once thriving working class neighborhood is falling apart after losing its main source of income, the lard company that helped give the community its name. Masi is an only child and her friends in the neighborhood are much like an extended family to her. She’s in and out of their homes as much as she is her own.

Colonel Franco, an outsider, comes to the neighborhood with an elaborate plan to attract visitors and perhaps even new residents to the area and with seemingly nothing left to lose, the small community buys into his idea and everyone is put to work. Along with his plan comes the oh! so attractive Felix and Masi is crushing hard.

What a summer it is for Masi! To an outsider, it probably looks as if her world is crumbling with the neighborhood businesses failing and her parents relationship seeming to be a casualty as well. But when you’re a 15 year old in the midst of such turmoil, you find your own way to make sense of this new reality and, you grow up. If you pay attention, you learn lessons about remaining true to yourself along the way.

Martinez writes a very complex story in which her character, Masi, subtly faces difficult situations. Her growth is paced and honest.

Claudia Gaudelupe Martinez also wrote the well recieved The Smell of Old Lady Perfume (Cinco Puntos 2008).

Done Deal

I’m currently reading Bad Luck Girl by Sarah Zettel. “Half fairy. Half human.Half Black When Jazz ruled Chicago.” This is the third book in the American Fairy trilogy and easily stands alone. I should finish soon!

Endings. ALAN just ended as did Grand Jury deliberations in Ferguson.

I’m here in this resort setting in Maryland (no! this is not DC) with an evening to quietly relax with my books. ALAN was low key and quiet this year. I met people I’ve known and supported for years, heard new and different ideas and got a few (47!) new books. Walter Mays did a fabulous job of bringing in a very diverse crew of writers and incorporating authors of various ethnicities, genders, and abilities into panels relevant to every aspect of being a teen.

I think the message I heard most often was that writers must honor the story, not forcing causes or gender or race get into the way and I can buy that. When you’re writing from who you are or more precisely, who your character is, their Blackness or their queerness will be so much a part of them that it will just be there.

Why was it that only Coe Booth, Christopher Paul Curtis and Walter dared mention Ferguson? How can we teach children how to cuss, ignite their sexual curiosity and show them how to come of age while ignoring issues of justice and equality? This is the meat of the call for diversity, and it’s more substantive that simply asking you to see our differences when at the same time I want you to understand our commonalities.

If you’ve heard me present lately,  you’ve heard these stories. They’re important.

I have a co-worker who was complaining that her niece is afraid of black men. She wondered what schools are teaching. I suppose we could blame schools who don’t include images of black men in books and in posters in classrooms. But real blame goes to the continued negative way black men are portrayed on the news and in TV shows and movies. Look how often the criminals are Black or Latino. Look how often the military shows have Middle Eastern or Chinese bad guys.

As I was putting together a list of children’s books that had black men as fathers or teachers or other positive role models, it suddenly hit me that this little girl would be afraid of my sons. My kind, wonderful, silly, smart sons. And think of all the other white girls who would be afraid of my sons, and all the boys who would be too. Think of all the police officers who would be afraid of my sons, like Darren Wilson, simply because they don’t know any.

I also think about the social studies teacher from Indiana who had no idea what to do with the kid who was racist to his core and who is learning this hatred from his parents while growing up in an all white town and all white school. Do you think he’s the only little racist growing up there? How does the school teach him any different? Books? It’s kinda like Christopher Paul Curtis said, “books are a start. If we see them as more than that, we’re over reaching.” Coe Booth then talked about her brother who stopped reading in the 5th grade. She writes want he might have read and wonders how different his life would be if he kept reading.

So many others over the course of the workshop– African Americans, Egyptian Americans, transsexuals, those with mental disabilities– all wondered how different their lives might be if they had met themselves in the books they read. Would they have better understood their own struggles? Felt validated? Not lived so much inside their own mind/fears/confusion?

White reads don’t wonder that.

The Furgeson Library is being filled with book donations as they remain a safe haven for the city’s children. Filling it with books about children of color won’t solve all their problems, there is no one solution to societal problems, but finding commonalities in our stories where characters look like the real world and understanding good stories will give us just a little more hope. I have no faith a room of books that is not a world of books. My responsibility is weighing heavy. To look at these things like Ferguson, to be aware of and know about these things and to do nothing? I’ve heard that called ’emotional entertainment’.

November Releases

Loweriders in Space by Cathy Camper; Chronicle Books

Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack, and Elirio Malaria love working with cars. You name it, they can fix it. But the team’s favorite cars of all are lowriders—cars that hip and hop, dip and drop, go low and slow, bajito y suavecito. The stars align when a contest for the best car around offers a prize of a trunkful of cash—just what the team needs to open their own shop! ¡Ay chihuahua! What will it take to transform a junker into the best car in the universe? Striking, unparalleled art from debut illustrator Raul the Third recalls ballpoint-pen-and-Sharpie desk-drawn doodles, while the story is sketched with Spanish, inked with science facts, and colored with true friendship. With a glossary at the back to provide definitions for Spanish and science terms, this delightful book will educate and entertain in equal measure.

Until the Day Arrives by Anna Marie Machado; Groundwood Books

A fast-moving middle-grade novel set in the 17th century about two Portuguese orphans who are sent to Brazil, where they encounter slaves from Africa. The novel opens when Bento is wrongly thrown into Lisbon’s prison, leaving his younger sibling, Manu, to fend for himself. Fortunately, a nobleman’s family reunites the siblings — although they will have be exiled to Brazil. They keep secret the fact that Manu is a girl in disguise so that she can accompany her brother aboard ship. The story shifts to the African savannah, where a young boy, Odjigi, is hunting gazelle with his father and other men. But the hunters are kidnapped by slave traders, as are the women and children of the village. In Brazil the siblings adapt to their new lives, but they are shocked by the treatment of African slaves. Manu befriends an aboriginal boy, Caiubi, and a slave, Didi, who has been separated from his father. Meanwhile Bento falls in love with Rosa, a beautiful young slave who is also searching for her family. When Manu learns about quilombos — villages hidden deep in the forest where slaves live in freedom — she is determined to help Didi and Rosa escape.

Caught Up by Amir Abrams; Kensington

School’s out and sixteen year-old Kennedy Simms is bored. That could be a recipe for disaster…

Good girls don’t go to real parties, like the ones in the hood. Or rock bangin’ clothes. Or stay out as long as they want. But I’m sick of my parents’ rules and being the perfect little boring suburban princess. It’s my life, right? I’ve decided to have some fun for a change, hitting the streets with my new bestie, Sasha. Best of all, my new gangsta-fine boo, Malik, knows how to treat me right, spoils me like I deserve, and is someone I can finally call my own. Sure, living the life and being with Malik is getting me into mad-crazy trouble. And if I don’t tell the truth about him, I could go to prison. But a good ride-or-die girl never snitches. And as long as my friends and my man stick by me, nothing can go wrong, right?

The Perfect Place by Teresa E. Harris; Clarion Books

Treasure’s dad has disappeared and her mom sets out to track him down, leaving twelve-year-old Treasure and her little sister, Tiffany, in small-town Virginia with their eccentric, dictatorial Great-Aunt Grace. GAG (as the girls refer to her) is a terrible cook, she sets off Treasure’s asthma with her cat and her chain smoking, and her neighbors suspect her in the recent jewel thefts. As the hope of finding their dad fades, the girls and their great-aunt begin to understand and accommodate one another. When a final dash to their dad’s last known address proves unsuccessful, Treasure has to accept that he’s gone for good. When she goes back to Great-Aunt Grace’s, it is the first time she has returned to a place instead of just moving on. Convincing, fully realized characters, a snarky narrative voice, and laugh-aloud funny dialogue make “The Perfect Place” a standout among stories of adjustment and reconfigured families.