By Edith Campbell
Meg Medina is an accomplished author who has won awards for Tia Isa Wants a Car and The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. Her latest book, Yaqui Dalgado Wants to Kick Your Ass is acquiring a growing list of recognition, including the Pura Belpré (a complete list of awards is at the bottom of this post). By the title, you might think that Yaqui is the main character in this realistic YA novel, but she’s not. This is Piadad “Piddy” Sanchez’s story. Just like with any bully, Yaqui seems to have taken things over.
When the novel begins, Piddy has just moved, leaving behind the school and neighborhood where she’s always felt at home. Medina quickly paints the picture of the new territory this young Latina must navigate, one where skin tone, country of origin, accent and ability to speak Spanish define where you sit as well as your place in the pecking order. Piddy shakes her hips in ways that unintentionally get too much attention and it’s on: Yaqui Delgado wants to kick her ass. Piddy’s mom can just look at Yaqui and know she’s up to no good. While Piddy’s mom may have no use for tough girls like Yaqui, Piddy cannot avoid them in her new school.
Piddy’s at that awkward age where she’s no longer a child, but not quite grown, either. She still cherishes the elephant necklace she got a few birthdays ago, but now even though she likes the idea, she knows she’s too old to celebrate her birthday like she did that time at the zoo. If she were still a little girl she could take her problems to her mom and could probably still do so if she were just a bit more mature. But Piddy doesn’t fully trust herself, and she’s also got this bully frightening her so much that—before long—she doesn’t even recognize herself.
When Piddy begins to have problems at school, she reaches out to her mother’s friend, Lila. Lila is like an aunt to Piddy. She’s the fun one who taught Piddy to dance and how to wear makeup, and she’s the one Piddy turns to when she wants to find out what really happened to her father.
Lila is part of the community in which Piddy’s story is grounded. Lila, her boyfriend Raul, the women at the beauty shop, and even the Ortegas provide spaces of comfort and familiarity for Piddy, and they nurture her as she struggles to find out who she is becoming. Piddy has two problems: she wants to know about her dad, and she can’t get Yaqui out of her head. For solutions, Piddy turns first to Lila and then to her old friend, Mitzi Ortega, who has recently moved to another area. These women are her touchstones as she moves from girl to woman. She wants to face Yaqui, but not even the support of Lila, Mitzi, and the others is enough to make that happen. We know that no one can give you this kind of strength; it comes from inside.
In her coming of age, Piddy finds Joey, a neighborhood boy who has had a very tough life. Medina writes their relationship as one that gives Piddy room to explore. While his character is not thoroughly developed, it is complete enough for the story, and their relationship helps us see a special tenderness in Piddy. Medina captures Piddy’s feelings and emotions in ways that will be immediately recognizable to anyone who has been the new kid or the kid who has been picked on. Piddy becomes a victim, losing any idea of who she is or for what she stands. Readers become part of the community that supports Piddy and wants her to stand up to Yaqui.
I’ve heard many shy away from this book, afraid of how rough it may be or turned off by the title. This is not a rough story! Despite the “ass” in the title, there’s no profanity, no drugs or alcohol, and only one scene of adolescent petting that is quite effective and touching. Piddy is a good student who wants to be a scientist and she comes from a thriving community. The novel illustrates that bullying can (and does) happen in any community, and in this book, the victim happens to be Piddy. Being a victim is rough, but Piddy is not a rough girl.
So, put the tape of the cover if you must, but put the book in your library. There are reasons for all the awards and recognition!
- Winner: 2014 Pura Belpré Award
- A Junior Library Guild 2013 Selection
- YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults
- Best Books for Teens 2013, Kirkus
- Best Books 2013, School and Library Journal
- Blue Ribbon List 2013 Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books
- ALSC Notable Books for Children 2014
- Capitol Choices Noteworthy Books for Children and Teens 2014
- YALSA Top Ten Quick-Pick for Reluctant Readers
- Top Ten In the Margins Pick (Library Services for Youth in Custody)
- 2013 CYBILS Award winner in fiction
- 10 YA Books That Adults Will Love: Huffington Post
- TAYSHA’s list 2014 (Texas Library Association)
- Cybils Finalist 2013
- Virginia State Reading list (high school) 2014
Edith Campbell is a mother, librarian, educator and quilter. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Cincinnati and MLS from Indiana University. Her passion is promoting literacy in all its many forms to teens and she does this through her blog, CrazyQuiltEdi and in her work as an Education Librarian at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana. Edith currently serves as the IN State Ambassador for the United States Board on Books for Young People and is a past member of YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults selection committee.