Review of Nerds, Goths, Geeks, and Freaks: Outsiders in Chicanx and Latinx Young Adult Literature

Reviewed by Cris Rhodes

Publisher’s Description of the Book: 

Contributions by Carolina Alonso, Elena Avilés, Trevor Boffone, Christi Cook, Ella Diaz, Amanda Ellis, Cristina Herrera, Guadalupe García McCall, Domino Pérez, Adrianna M. Santos, Roxanne Schroeder-Arce, Lettycia Terrones, and Tim Wadham

In Nerds, Goths, Geeks, and Freaks: Outsiders in Chicanx and Latinx Young Adult Literature, the outsider intersects with discussions of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. The essays in this volume address questions of outsider identities and how these identities are shaped by mainstream myths around Chicanx and Latinx young people, particularly with the common stereotype of the struggling, underachieving inner-city teens. 

Contributors also grapple with how young adults reclaim what it means to be an outsider, weirdo, nerd, or goth, and how the reclamation of these marginalized identities expand conversations around authenticity and narrow understandings of what constitutes cultural identity. 

Included are analysis of such texts as I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, Shadowshaper, Swimming While Drowning, and others. Addressed in the essays are themes of outsiders in Chicanx/Latinx children’s and young adult literature, and the contributors insist that to understand Latinx youth identities it is necessary to shed light on outsiders within an already marginalized ethnic group: nerds, goths, geeks, freaks, and others who might not fit within such Latinx popular cultural paradigms as the chola and cholo, identities that are ever-present in films, television, and the internet.

MY TWO CENTS: In a departure from my usually reviewed materials for this website, I was delighted to jump into an academic text. I’ve reviewed fiction for Latinxs in Kid Lit, but this is a work of scholarship and thus, a very different read. Usually, when I review, I try to temper my scholarly focuses and think about what a readership of young people would enjoy. Here, however, the intended audience of the text is scholars like me! Thus, the publication of this edited collection was exciting, dating back to the moment when I spotted the original call for chapters and hoped that it would be just the right addition to our field. It is.

As scholars of Latinx children’s literature know, there is a paucity of edited volumes on the subject. In fact, only a few have been published, and all within the last several years. Importantly, Nerds, Goths, Geeks, and Freaks furthers existing scholarly conversations about Latinx children’s literature by looking at “outsiders within an already marginalized community” (from the Introduction by editors Trevor Boffone and Cristina Herrera). For those outside of Latinx children’s literature scholarship: This area of study tends to focus on stereotypical portraits of young Latinxs–that is, the chola/a/x, inner-city kids, at-risk youth, etc. But, in focalizing other Latinx youth populations, this volume encourages engagement with very real, seldom interrogated Latinx adolescents. 

The book itself is neatly divided into different categories, allowing readers to hone in on chapters of particular interest to them. Though the title indicates that the book centers nerds, goths, geeks, and freaks–it actually does more than that, analyzing Latinx adolescents who are bookworms, or superheroes, or queer, or artists, in addition to those who fit within the identities listed in the book’s title. Such analyses of Latinxs who don’t settle in the stereotypical image of Latinx youth are much needed in the field of literary study and are also essential conversations for those of us who read and enjoy Latinx children’s books. Using the frameworks provided by Boffone and Herrera and their authors encourages us to spotlight Latinx youth literature that defies the single story often perpetuated about Latinxs. 

Cris Rhodes, the reviewer, in her teen years

For someone who identified, at some time or another throughout my own teen years, as a Latina nerd, goth, geek, and freak, seeing explorations of these identities in literature is affirming. I would’ve loved to have had a book like Gabi, A Girl in Pieces when I first decided I wanted to be a writer or The First Rule of Punk when I dyed half of my hair purple (not nearly as cool as the quetzal green Malú uses in the book). As a current scholar of children’s literature, I consider conversations about these textual moments as doing much good to our field. They highlight that studying Latinxs isn’t a niche occupation, but is integral to studying children’s literature as a whole. And, as a consumer of Latinx youth literature, I’m glad to see these books given their critical due. 

The chapters in this collection are academically rigorous and critical, yet accessible. This is one of the few scholarly texts that I would recommend for general readers (not just scholars), and particularly for older, adolescent readers headed into college. The writing modeled throughout is the kind of cogent, scholarly writing their professors and teachers will be looking for. Additionally, it should be largely understandable for those without a critical scholarly background, as each author does a good job of providing a foundation for the analyses they make. And, for anyone not fully comfortable reading scholarship, I encourage them to at least peruse the Table of Contents for ideas on quality fiction to read!

All in all, Nerds, Goths, Geeks, and Freaks: Outsiders in Chicanx and Latinx Young Adult Literature is a solid academic text, a great invitation for new, Latinx youth literature scholars, and an intriguing library of excellent Latinx children’s books. 

TEACHING TIPS: Listen, I think all professors in the humanities (heck, also in STEM) should be teaching something about Latinx youth. If they’re not, then they’re doing a disservice both to their students and to the growing population of Latinx youth throughout the world. That being said, this volume would serve well in college-level education courses, especially for students at predominantly white institutions who have little previous exposure to studying Latinx youth or Latinx children’s literature. Additionally, I would teach the chapters in this volume in general literature courses or more specialized children’s or Latinx literature courses. (In fact, I’m a little miffed this volume wasn’t released before I taught my “Latinx Youth and Their Literatures” course!). Finally, as I explained in my review, the tone of each of the chapters is exemplary of good scholarly writing, thus I would also encourage teachers/professors to show this to students as a model of scholarly research and writing. 

The following chapter titles offer an additional glimpse of themes explored in Nerds, Goths, Geeks, and Freaks: Outsiders in Chicanx and Latinx Young Adult Literature:

Chapter 5: “Afuerxs and Cultural Practice in Shadowshaper and Labyrinth Lost“, by contributor Domino Pérez

Chapter 8: ” ‘These Latin Girls Mean Business’: Expanding the Boundaries of Latina Youth Identity in Meg Medina’s YA Novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass,” by editor-contributor Cristina Herrera

Chapter 12: “The Coming-of-Age Experience in Chicanx Queer Novels What Night Brings and Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe,” by contributor Carolina Alonso

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Cris Rhodes holds a Ph. D. from Texas A&M-Commerce. She is an assistant professor of English at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches writing, culturally diverse literature, and ethnic literatures. In addition to teaching, Cris’s scholarship focuses on Latinx youth and their literature or related media. She also has a particular scholarly interest in activism and the ways that young Latinxs advocate for themselves and their communities.

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