From School Library Journal
Grade 6-9–Barry Esquivel and Alby Alonzo, two Mexican-American teens growing up in a Texas suburb, have been friends since first grade, but their relationship is challenged by Alby's secret gambling. In debt to Ciro, a thug who runs poker games in his garage, Alby convinces Barry, whose recently deceased father trained him as a boxer, to enter a local competition so they might split the prize money. Barry is reluctant but agrees in order to help his mother through their financial difficulties. Remembering his dad's advice to aim for the liver, Barry wins all of the matches, and even though the prize money is only a fraction of the boys' expectations, Alby has bet on the fight and wins big. Then his true motives and his callous exploitation of Barry's emotions are revealed and the boys become estranged. Refusing to take any of Alby's ill-gotten winnings, Barry must sell the 1964 Ford Galaxy he and his father had been restoring in order to help his mother. In an unexpected show of character and wisdom, Alby's father, portrayed earlier as a boastful car salesman, comes up with a way to help his son redeem himself. Minimal character development, a mere passing nod to the boys' ethnicity, false-sounding dialogue, and the simplistic resolution keep this novel from realizing its potential, but its brevity and vivid descriptions of the boxing matches are likely to attract male reluctant readers.–Marie Orlando, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Saldana (The Jumping Tree
, 2001) delivers another moving coming-of-age novel about the perils of friendship and the burdens of parental expectations. Barry Esquivel is a high-school senior dealing with the responsibility he feels as the new man of the family in the wake of his father's death. Barry's best friend, Alby, has problems of his own: in trying to live up to his father's credo that "we're winners not losers," he has amassed gambling debts to an unsavory type who wants his money now. Playing on their friendship, Alby convinces Barry, long schooled by his father as a boxer, to enter a shady competition called the Man o' Mite. Knowing this kind of exploitive venture would be condemned by his father, Barry still agrees to fight--anything to keep the family from selling Pop's treasured 1964 Ford Galaxy to make ends meet. The premise screams Rocky
, but Saldana skillfully dodges that punch, focusing less on the fights and more on the boys' imperiled friendship. Comparisons to Markus Zusak's Fighting Ruben Wolfe
(2001) are inevitable, but Saldana avoids the overwriting that marred Zusak's first novel. Bill OttCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved