Look Both Ways in the Barrio Blanco by debut novelist Judith Robbins Rose will be released September 8, 2015, but I had the opportunity to read an ARC (Advance Reading Copy) for review. It’s not often that I read Middle Grade fiction, but despite the 10 year old target audience, I couldn’t put the book down.
The story is in the voice of Jacinta Juarez, a young Mexican-American girl who reminded me a little of an older Junie B. Jones due to her spirited personality which results in quite a few humorous moments, despite some of the very serious themes this book takes on.
Being bilingual and bicultural has a million advantages, but it has its challenges too – Jacinta must learn to straddle both worlds as she deals with the stress caused by her family’s socio-economic situation and the legal status of her parents, while figuring out if it’s possible to balance obligation to one’s familia with the very American ideal of pursuing one’s own happiness.
When local news reporter, Kathryn Dawson Dahl, (a white woman who Jacinta simply refers to as “Miss”), sponsors Jacinta at the Youth Center, she is introduced to a new world of exciting opportunities and hurtful, confusing experiences. While this could be exactly where this book goes off the rails and becomes problematic as a “white savior” narrative, I think the author succeeded at very honestly portraying how white women often see themselves as “rescuers” in this type of situation and the mess that results.
Title: Look Both Ways in the Barrio Blanco
Author: Judith Robbins Rose
Ages: 10+ (Middle Grade Fiction)
A quote from School Library Journal review: “…It’s as pleasurable to watch these characters take one another by surprise as it is horribly anxiety-producing to see them hurt, stumble, insult, and misunderstand nearly every situation requiring contextual awareness. [The author] doesn’t sugarcoat the hypocrisies and tough realities of the relationship, and of the very real reasons that they mistrust one another. Nearly everyone in the book makes some pretty serious and unforgivable mistakes, but as flawed humans they are allowed to wear their flaws, to make mature decisions and stupid childish ones. Rather than writing an ‘issue book,’ [the author] presents characters in crisis, whose stories are personal, rather than broadly representative, and the book is better for it. Ultimately, this is a story about code switching, and about the different skill sets and assumptions required for complex cross-cultural and cross-class situations…” – Katya Schapiro, Brooklyn Public Library
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