(It's hard to tell in this digital copy of the cover, but the publisher worked some magic with the finish on the actual cover to nearly perfectly replicate the look of a slightly grimy high school locker. Man, it took me right back! (Note: no one wrote "Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass" on my locker.))
My copy of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass has a blurb from The Washington Post on the front: "Gritty... and complicatedly true." This winner of the Pura Belpre Award is just that.
As the book opens, we meet the main character, Piddy, as she and her mother move from one apartment building in Queens, NY to another. The move isn't far-less than 2 miles-but it's enough to move Piddy into a different high school's district. Within a week of starting school, a stranger approaches Piddy to deliver a message: Yaqui Delgado wants to kick her ass. Thus begins months of confusion (who is Yaqui? what did I do to her?), fear, and anxiety. The reader sees Piddy go from being a very successful student with a strong support system rooted in her single mom, her mom's best friend, and her own best friend to a nearly friendless, scared shitless, often-truant, struggling student. All because of a bully.
This is where I totally agree with The Washington Post: this book is definitely gritty, and true. As you can probably surmise from the title, this book is for older teens. I'd reserve this one for students already in high school. There's language and frank discussion of life in dangerous neighborhoods. Piddy's mom is single mom, having never married, who has to work very long hours. Piddy is often left to fend for herself, and is responsible for many household tasks such as preparing dinner. There is, however, very very very little foul language in this book, considering the title! Even without harsh words, Meg Medina still paints a very stark picture of high school survival. There is also a secondary character whose storyline touches briefly upon alcoholism and domestic abuse.
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass is also-very sadly-very true. With that one delivered message (threat), Piddy's life takes a drastic turn for the worse. This book doesn't sugarcoat at all the amount of fear experiences when you know a threat could be lurking in any bathroom; around any corner; at any bus stop. To have to still go to school and to work, knowing that you could be jumped and beaten at any moment. The reader watches, powerless, as Piddy's grades slip and her other formerly strong relationships crumble as she lives with this horrible secret. Because yes, we adults want to believe that the "Bully Free Zone" posters and anonymous tip lines work, but they only work if someone uses them. Piddy is rightly terrified to report Yaqui, knowing that the abuse will only be delayed and not stopped. Even if Yaqui is suspended or expelled, her social group will still be at the school with Piddy.
Meg Medina kept me riveted through to the end. This book is definitely not predictable! Piddy's voice is so achingly true to the high school experience. And the ending was damn near perfect. Not perfect in that everything wraps up in a tidy package with a bow, because that's not true to life. But perfect in it's own way. I would so love to have teens read this and discuss it, as it does such a great job of showing all possible outcomes, and would be a fantastic springboard for a discussion on bullying and it's ripple effects.
*I own my copy of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.