Sometimes change comes at you like a broadside accident.” -- Joni Mitchell, “Good Friends” (1985)
“For many years, the Mission has been the battleground for protests over evictions, tech shuttles, gentrification, and the soaring cost of living. Yet in San Francisco’s oldest neighborhood, the issues are more complicated than two sides of a sharply divided protest. The Mission’s longtime residents are struggling to make businesses work, fighting to keep a foothold in their homes and coping with an unprecedented influx of wealth. For them, the shift is far more nuanced than catchy protest slogans.” -- from the introduction to the San Francisco Chronicle’s documentary, “A CHANGING MISSION: To whom does San Francisco’s oldest neighborhood belong?”
This “geographical shuffling of low-income people at the behest of those with money” is currently an important issue in San Francisco, New York, Boston, Seattle, and other big American cities. Therefore, I find it notable that, in THE EPIC FAIL OF ARTURO ZAMORA, a tween character explains the term “gentrification” to Arturo Zamora.
THE EPIC FAIL OF ARTURO ZAMORA, set in a Cuban-American neighborhood in Miami, involves a developer who comes into town with big plans that threaten to radically disrupt the lives of the extended Zamora family and their beloved, decades-old family restaurant. The family and their friends must galvanize opposition to the potential displacement and develop a campaign for its defeat.
The story takes place over three weeks during the summer vacation that precedes Arturo’s entrance to eighth grade. Arturo has a summer dishwashing job at the family restaurant. His buddies Mop and Bren are preparing to leave town for summer adventures. Meanwhile, Carmen, whose parents were old family friends of the Zamoras, has just arrived from Spain with her father for the summer. They are mourning the recent loss of Carmen’s mother.
Throughout THE EPIC FAIL OF ARTURO ZAMORA, we repeatedly encounter the poetry of and information about the life of legendary Cuban hero José Martí. Since the thawing of U.S. relations with Cuba has been in the news over recent years, this exposure to Martí may well prompt young readers to learn a bit more about the island nation that is situated so close to America.
And since the story revolves around the family restaurant, there are plenty of traditional Cuban dishes constantly being prepared, served, and eaten.
But THE EPIC FAIL OF ARTURO ZAMORA isn’t notable merely because it is immersed in poetry, good food, and important topical issues. This book is overflowing with heart--vivid depictions of family, young love, and the heartwarming camaraderie of young male friends that had me wistfully recalling the joys of being a young teen, goofing around with the guys, “ranking” on one another:
BREN: Dude, what’s in your hand? ME: Um, a book. BREN: What kind of book? ME: A book of poems. Bren stopped dribbling. BREN: By poems, you mean, like, rap lyrics? Mop interrupted us and took the book out of my hand. MOP: José Martí? Cool. Didn’t know you were reading that. ME: I’m not. I mean, I guess I could--will--maybe read it. BREN: I don’t know any rappers named José. Is he new? MOP: Bren. Martí was a revolutionary hero in the Cuban War for Independence against Spain in the late 1800s. BREN: A Cuban rapper from the 1800s? Dude, that’s awesome. Bren tried to shoot a three but airballed. MOP: Are you sure you want to try out for the eighth-grade team? BREN: I have a good chance to start. Mop and I looked at each other. BREN: So, Arturo, perchance does that book of Cuban rapper poems belong to a special someone who popped into your life the other day after so many years apart? ME: What? No. Bren stopped shooting and smiled. BREN: Bro, she was, like, the tallest girl I’ve ever seen She’s almost your height, Arturo. Mop took the ball from Bren. MOP: Every time you say bro, the English language loses its will to live. BREN: Dude, I think you should totally ask her out. ME: No way. My mom is her godmother! We’re practically related. Can we just play?”
What THE EPIC FAIL OF ARTURO ZAMORA shows us is that, while change is inevitable, we, as a society, repeatedly struggle to strike a balance between embracing change and holding onto the traditions and connections that make us who we are.
These days, in a mobility-driven America, extended families living in close proximity are nowhere near as commonplace as they once were. The fictional, Cuban-American Zamora clan harkens back to a time many of us aging readers recall, back when our own immigrant grandparents were still alive and there were big Sunday dinners and close extended family relationships.
Like those big Sunday dinners from my own childhood, THE EPIC FAIL OF ARTURO ZAMORA is a wonderfully satisfying experience.
978-1-101-99723-9 Ages 256 pages
Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA
See more of his recommendations at: Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.