Book Review: Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Peña

Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Pena

Mexican WhiteBoy
by Matt de la Peña
Goodreads | Amazon
Series: no
Published: August 12th 2008
Rating: A great story of friendship and identity

I guess I should disclose that I met and liked Matt de la Peña at a conference a couple of weeks ago. I reread this in preparation for the event. Yes, I am that person. Anyway, this is all my honest opinion, and I bought the book myself.

Mexican WhiteBoy is the story of sixteen-year-old Danny.  He is half white and half Mexican but has spent his life feeling neither.  He is visiting his father family for the summer even though he hasn't seen his father in more than three years.  

Mexican WhiteBoy is written in third person present tense.  I find the present tense almost uncomfortably intimate sometimes. Maybe I need the buffer of time between me and the events of the book? Often I find it less pleasant to read.  This book managed to sidestep those issues for me.  It was intimate, but the writing was strong enough that I was prepared to be that close to the characters.

I liked the friendship that develops between Danny and Uno.  They looked out for one another, supported one another, and most importantly brought out the best in one another. I have said this before but finding books with strong positive male friendships is frustratingly difficult.  

There is also baseball in this book.  I am not a sports book fan.  Someone once said something about all the whaling parts in Moby Dick being skippable unless you wanted to punish yourself.  I usually feel like that with baseball stories.  The baseball here became a larger metaphor for control and success.  Thankfully, there are not endless descriptions of baseball games and the details of training and playing that are included feel as if they are a vital part of the story.

Danny has decided not to speak. Or at least to talk as little as he can get away with.  And he can get away with shockingly small amounts.  It makes me wonder if he was a girl if he would have as easy a time nodding and shrugging without anyone noticing.   Danny's feelings of not being "Mexican enough" and his embarrassment and not being able to speak his father's language lead to his deciding not to talk at all.  These feelings are tied in with his father being gone and Danny's lack of contact with him.

This book is spare both regarding writing and plot.  It's hard to describe the plot as there isn't much going on.  It is the story of a summer in the lives of two boys.  Nothing in this book is exaggerated.  Everything that happens is plausible and intensely realistic.  This realism makes reading the book sometimes feel voyeuristic.  You start to feel as if you are following two teenage boys around.

The feeling of being part of two cultures but also neither of them is an important theme.  I work in an international context where a student often has parents from two different countries while living in a third. The feeling of not being enough is something that I hear from students fairly often. My students also relate strongly to the language issue that Danny faces.  His father has decided not to teach him Spanish which puts a painfully obvious amount of distance between Danny and his extended family.

It is my favorite of Matt de la Peña novels. The writing is sharp, the characters are easy to care for, and the reader is invested in the summer's outcome.  I will continue to recommend this book to others and especially my students.  


From Goodreads:

Danny's tall and skinny. Even though he’s not built, his arms are long enough to give his pitch a power so fierce any college scout would sign him on the spot. Ninety-five mile an hour fastball, but the boy’s not even on a team. Every time he gets up on the mound he loses it.

But at his private school, they don’t expect much else from him. Danny’ s brown. Half-Mexican brown. And growing up in San Diego that close to the border means everyone else knows exactly who he is before he even opens his mouth. Before they find out he can’t speak Spanish, and before they realize his mom has blond hair and blue eyes, they’ve got him pegged. But it works the other way too. And Danny’s convinced it’s his whiteness that sent his father back to Mexico. 

That’s why he’s spending the summer with his dad’s family. Only, to find himself, he may just have to face the demons he refuses to see--the demons that are right in front of his face. And open up to a friendship he never saw coming.

Set in the alleys and on the ball fields of San Diego County, Mexican Whiteboy is a story of friendship, acceptance, and the struggle to find your identity in a world of definitions.