Does My Body Offend You? by Mayra Cuevas and Narie Marquardt. Alfred A. Knopf, 2022. 9780593425855
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4
Genre: Realistic fiction
What did you like about the book? After Hurricane Maria, fifteen-year-old Malena and her mom leave Puerto Rico to join extended family in Florida. Meanwhile Ruby relocates to the same town to live with her grandma, leaving Seattle behind and settling in for her senior year. A bad sunburn prompts Malena to ditch her bra for the day, setting off a chain of events that brings the two teens into a partnership to challenge the school’s dress code. Overcoming her initial hesitancy, the previously subdued Malena decides to live her life “undaunted”, attending a wild party, getting drunk, and making out with a stranger. Meanwhile, a walkout organized by the two girls gets out of control and Ruby is knocked down and roughly groped by a boy. She’s comforted by Malena’s cousin Carlos, a promising pitcher, and they become a couple. As Malena becomes more radical and confident, Ruby retreats, haunted by her assault, drawn to Carlos, and intimidated by comparisons to her “perfect” older sister. Their planned presentation to the school board is a disaster; Ruby is unprepared and Malena is furious. Supportive family, teachers, and friends help the girls reconcile and come up with an alternate approach.
This book combined several high interest strands and the characters felt authentic, especially when Malena finally confronts Ruby about her White Savior tendencies. Malena’s extended family, with their traditional attitudes toward gender roles, was especially compelling and the authors are frank about the bias that students of color face when tangling with dress codes. I also appreciated hearing Malena and Ruby’s internal dialogues (the book is told in alternating first-person) as they struggle with the conflict between wearing what they want and doing what they want.
Anything you didn’t like about it? I thought the book was a bit overstuffed; I would have liked more focus on the strategy and process of challenging the dress code. After a promising set-up, the middle of the book dragged, with more and more characters and side plots introduced.
To whom would you recommend this book? Teens looking for realistic stories with feminist themes. Malena’s loving but traditional Puerto Rican family will also be appealing for students who want to see LatinX characters in their fiction. A good read alike for those who enjoyed The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera or Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon.
Who should buy this book? High school and public libraries
Where would you shelve it? Fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: May 25, 2022