It never fails to surprise me how some of the books not getting big buzz turn out to be hidden gems. The Revolution Of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano was a book that I picked up on a whim at the Book Blogger Convention. None of the other books we could choose from for our grab bags looked interesting to me, and so not know anything about the book except that the word ‘revolution’ is in the title and it’s published by Scholastic, I put it in my bag. Friends, apparently I am a GREAT decision maker under the pressure of a line, because I ended up really liking The Revolution Of Evelyn Serrano.
Set in 1969, with El Barrio, or Spanish Harlem as a backdrop, The Revolution Of Evelyn Serrano is all about social justice. Told through the eyes of Evelyn – who by the way insists on being called Evelyn, her middle name, instead of Rosa because too many girls in the barrio are named Rosa- we see The Young Lords which is an activist group comprised of Puerto Ricans insist on cleaner streets. You see, the streets of El Barrio are filled with trash. Evelyn must also deal with her mother and Abuela who is her grandmother being continually at odds with each other. Also? Evelyn is spending the summer working at a drug store and making a few friends outside of the barrio. I found The Revolution Of Evelyn Serrano to be an honest look at what life is like in El Barrio and what actions can drive social change.
I rooted for Evelyn the entire time, even when she was not being entirely fair. She is a dynamic character who experiences a coming of age, and I love that. She’s on the cusp of deciding whether to embrace her Puerto Rican roots or grow wings and fly away (not literally, y’all). She’s a good girl who cares about her family, even when there is conflict between members. Plus, Evelyn takes a page out of her sassy grandmother’s book and learns to stand up for her beliefs. I love that.
The interactions between Evelyn’s mother and Abuela are quite tense. You see, Abuela was never all that great of a mother. Instead of caring for her child, she helped lead revolutions throughout Puerto Rico as a way to make up for a past. When Abuela arrives unannounced in NYC, she takes Evelyn’s room and is not the best house guest. Yet, she fully inhabits her personality and with her faults come strengths as well. Abuela is one of the people to embrace the Young Lords, the social activist group. She finds herself sweeping trash off the street and assisting with the Lords’ social justice efforts. I found it admirable that she didn’t let her age lull her into complacency or not caring.
Sonia Manzano’s The Revolution Of Evelyn Serrano is a very quick read. It has short chapters and large print. Interspersed within the text are Spanish and Spanglish terms, but the author rarely does that thing where she defines the word right after a character says it. Instead readers are given context clues,which I LOVE because it doesn’t break up the natural flow of the book. I think the interesting characters and the tight plotting really help to move the story along at a satisfactory clip, which is especially good if you are doing a readathon or just want to get through a pile of your owned books.
I’d be utterly remiss if I did not mention the themes of social justice within The Revolution Of Evelyn Serrano. As well all know, life is not fair, nor is it just. But that does not mean we should sit back and be blasé about it. The cool thing is that Sonia Manzano shows people who are willing to sit up and take action to improve their station in life. The Young Lords want to use the church for free breakfast for children, day care, and a clothing exchange. It was so wonderful to see people who look beyond themselves. And actually come to think of it, you could pair this book with All The Right Stuff by Walter Dean Myers for a vivid discussion of the social contract.
The Revolution Of Evelyn Serrano is not going to get the fanfare of bigger books, and that’s just fine. Yet, I don’t think you should miss out on it, because it’s a wonderful, quiet novel about one girl’s coming of age and pride in her heritage. It’s based on true events in history, and for once an event that I had never even heard of. Well-written and fast paced, Sonia Manzano’s book is definitely worth a few quiet hours of contemplation, especially for middle graders.
Disclosure: Picked up at Book Blogger Convention 2012
Other reviews of The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano:
Novel Novice – “I was profoundly touched and moved by this book!”
You Decide: Should I Read It Or Not? – “I was more proud of my heritage than ever after reading Sonia Manzano’s book.”