Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3.5
Genre: realistic fiction
What did you like about the book? “…my diary is the only place where I get to say what I feel. So, that is it, I will write. I will write everything I feel. Once I figure out what I feel, of course.”
Julia’s experience in Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas is detailed in her diary, which spans her life from ages 12 – 15. She writes about normal coming of age experiences like friendship, drama, school, and boys she’s interested in, but these entries are interspersed with signs of trauma. Her father is involved in some sort of shady enterprise and sometimes doesn’t come home for long periods of time or comes home beat up. Her mother sometimes doesn’t get out of bed for days and leaves the kids in the care of their Bis, their great-grandmother, who has dementia. Julia’s community is beset by violence; it isn’t safe to go outside in Juarez and she frequently overhears adults talking about girls who are taken or raped. In short, Julia’s life, and that of her younger brother Willy, is stressful and difficult. When her father is hospitalized, her mother finally sends the two children to live with their Tia in El Paso. The contrast between life in Juarez and El Paso is stark; the schools have supplies in Texas, it is safe to bike around the neighborhood, and Julia is actually able to enjoy a somewhat normal childhood. She misses her parents, however, and feels abandoned by her mother.
This U.S. middle grade debut (the author has published frequently in Mexico) is filled with heartache, but Julia’s diary entries also manage to convey humor.
To whom would you recommend this book? Students who are interested in reading about the experiences of teenagers from other countries.
Anything you didn’t like about it? It’s a bit confusing what age level this is for. At first I thought it was for younger readers because of Julia’s naivete in the beginning of the book, but as the book goes on it’s clear that parts are too mature for younger readers (expletives, sexual content, etc). I’m not sure it will appeal to either age group in its entirety.
Who should buy this book? Recommended for some high school libraries with large collections.
Where would you shelve it? Realistic fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Laura Gardner, Dartmouth Middle School, Dartmouth, MA
Date reviewed: March 28, 2020