Author’s Note: When I put a picture of the cover of this book on our “Books We Are Currently Reading” bulletin board, it drew attention as fast as Charles Schultz drew Peanuts. “Mr. C, your book has a swear in its title!” “What’s that book about, Mr. C?” Well, bullying — in this day and age, an overwrought subject if ever there was one. But Meg Medina pulls it off, and with style, too.
As I was reading the book, cheering it on, I was determined to put it into classroom library circulation despite its inclusion of some profanity (both English and Spanish). Many of the YA books in our library contain saucy words, after all, but the kids take it in stride, and if one of them comments on a book’s language, I always ask if it’s anything they haven’t heard before, and they always assure me it’s not. OK, then. I act like it’s no big deal among us adults, and they follow suit.
This book brings me to a familiarly troublesome spot, however. I reached a page where the lead character, a wonderful girl named Piddy who is being terrorized by the eponymous title girl seeks comfort in the arms of a boy. Although nothing terribly dramatic or explicit happens, some subtly intimate language is used. Hoo, boy, I said to myself. Could a parent quote this page and write an e-mail to the principal and/or the supe — a parent who doesn’t read the whole book to see how morally grounded it is in decency and love? Yeppers. And so, I hesitated and became annoyed that such a good book would now be denied deserving circulations among my readers.
And then another side of me spoke up, saying, “These very same kids are getting sex education in Wellness, no? Who are we kidding here? What is the big deal, really? And why am I denying them a fundamentally sound book with great female leads because of a little honesty about growing up?”
Yep… here we go again. And I’m still on the fence. Meanwhile, here’s my review. The book is scheduled for release on March 26, 2013. This review is from an advanced reading copy.
Talk about a provocative title! Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass grabs teen readers’ attention in a hurry. As you might infer, it is a book about bullying — not “another” book about bullying, but “a” book about it. Meaning? I think it stands above the others I’ve read. Strong, strong characterization. And, in a book curiously devoid of male characters (spare two minor players), Medina’s book speaks to the power of women, especially when they work together.
The protagonist here is Piddy Sanchez, a Latina girl who lands in a new high school when her single mother tries to improve their lot (and apartment) in life. Piddy’s arrival draws notice from the wrong person in a hurry. In fact, the first line of the book is its title. The words are uttered menacingly by Vanesa, a friend of Yaqui’s. It takes another girl to explain the threat more clearly. The mysterious (but not for long!) Yaqui has decided that Piddy is stuck up, shakes her booty too much, and has eyes for her boyfriend. Of course, Piddy wouldn’t know Yaqui’s boyfriend if she fell over him, but that, apparently, is beside the point.
From this simple beginning, a psychological net begins to close on the mind of Piddy. She begins to feel like prey, an innocent creature that can hear but not see the trouble that stalks her. Later, Yaqui appears with a bang (think Piddy’s head, maybe), and the intimidation takes on a whole new dimension. Piddy is so traumatized that she fears going outside, never mind to school. She becomes the hunted, the haunted, and the hated through no fault of her own.
As a bigger than life help to Piddy, there’s Ma’s best friend, Lila, who sells Avon products and keeps men guessing. Piddy’s mother has personality in spades, too. She has strong ideas on what it means to be a lady, but she’s keeping secrets about Piddy’s missing father. In fact, she burned all of his pictures, and Piddy’s burning to know more about him. The conflict between indignant daughter and harried mother serves as a neat sub-plot to the mayhem at school.
Then there’s Piddy’s Saturday job. She works at Salón Corazón, a hair salon where the women come for styling and gossip. For a teen like Piddy, it’s a great fly-on-the-wall place to learn about the ways of adults and the wiles of men, only Yaqui and her gang track her down one Saturday, turning her weekend paradise into yet another trap where the enemy can find her.
Ultimately, threats become actions and Piddy seeks succor in all kinds of places, including the arms of Joey Halper, a kid who grew up calling her Toad and now is a man — or at least as much a man as a teenage boy can be. Medina does a masterful job as she shows what it’s like to be a haunted, hunted girl desperate for love while hiding secrets of hate — Yaqui’s — which she suffers silently until the violence leaves loud marks on her body. Then she has no choice but to share, and with it come the consequences. “Narcs” who rat on bullies know that they haven’t seen anything yet. Will the same hold for Piddy?
A story of strong Latina women, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass will charm you with its grit and honesty. It’s hard not to cheer for Piddy and enjoy the sassy women who surround her, and Yaqui will be your favorite antagonist in quite some time. Yes, it may be a bit too edgy for most middle school readers, but it’s a strong addition to any high school library — school, classroom, or personal.