From School Library Journal
Grade 9 Up–Sammy Santos–responsible, bright, and self-contained–grows up in the Hollywood barrio of Las Cruces, NM, during the last half of the 1960s. Sáenz provides the Mexican-American teen with a voice that is genuine and compelling, realistic in its limitations and nuances as he comes to grips with the death of Juliana, his first love, and the increasingly complex demands and needs of his remaining friends, as well as of his family and neighbors. Subplots involve the role of the Church in the barrio, the movement from authoritarian school administrations to the loosening of rules during the Vietnam War period, the realistic portrayal of what happened to too many gay teens during this period (and continues to happen today), the effects of the draft on poor young men of color, the roles adopted by individual teens as they mature within a community's social order, and family ties that require people to choose sometimes for themselves and sometimes for others in the family. Sáenz works through all this material neatly and so effectively that Sammy deserves to become a character of lasting interest to both casual readers and literature classes. Expletives appear throughout as do large helpings of Spanish, without italics and not always with English echoed afterward, in perfect keeping both with Sammy's world and his self-perception. His hopes and plans for a better life, beyond the hold of Hollywood are poignant and palpable. This is a powerful and authentic look at a community's aspirations and the tragic losses that result from shattered dreams.–Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
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Gr. 9-12. "Someone's gonna hurt you. And you're gonna wish you never had a heart." The warning quickly becomes reality as Sammy struggles with his girlfriend Juliana's violent death. Sammy and Juliana's Hollywood is a New Mexico barrio, where Sammy loses more than his virginity and his girlfriend during his difficult 1969 senior year. A good student and an avid reader (his classmates nickname him "The Librarian"), he works hard for his dream of college. One friend is drafted for Vietnam, another dies of a drug overdose. Two gay friends leave town in exile, and Sammy's father is injured in an automobile accident, altering Sammy's plans. But dad suggests that they shouldn't feel so bad about loss: "I mean--it's the only thing we're good at." The barrio setting is as palpable as the wings that beat against Sammy's insides when danger lurks. The tough but caring family, neighbors, and friends speak in authentic dialogue liberally laced with Spanish that adds texture to the story, and an empathetic teacher and a stand against the school dress code provide a small victory to help Sammy weather the racism and poverty that fuel his emotions and his losses. Cindy DobrezCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved