Alex Sanchez, June 2009. Sanchez is known for his novels about young Latinos coming out in high school; this is a bit of a departure in that its protagonist is a straight teen in trouble for beating up guys that flirt with him or suggest he’s gay, even jokingly. Diego is a quiet boy who loves the ocean and is shy around girls, so he doesn’t understand why his temper flares when someone calls him “faggot” or a man touches his shoulder; neither does his mother or Ariel, the girl he’s crushing on.
It turns out that Diego’s stepfather, who shot himself in the head before the action begins, had been molesting Diego for many years. His mother knew, but told herself it couldn’t be true. Diego worries that his passive acceptance of the abuse means he too is gay, despite his feelings for Ariel, and he can’t stand anyone else suggesting that’s the case. He’s also clandestinely cutting himself.
This is a classic problem novel; Diego struggles with his secret, a kind adult (probation officer Mr. Vidas) helps him through it, and in the end he gets the girl and makes up with his mom. However, certain elements of the story strain credulity. Diego at first receives a suspended sentence for his fight with another student, pleading for probation instead so that he’ll be assigned to Mr. Vidas. It’s difficult to imagine a real teen making this choice rather than seeking another adult – a teacher, priest, or therapist – in whom to confide. The dialogue is often forced as well, particularly that between Diego and Ariel, whose character is particularly undeveloped. Also, Diego’s healing process seems remarkably rapid considering what he’s been through with his stepfather as well as his mother. Still, readers will be on Diego’s side, and Mr. Vidas is an excellent role model, as is Diego’s loyal friend Kenny. Recommended where problem novels are still popular or where there is high demand for YA Latino fiction. The prose flows well, the page count is low, and the vocabulary is simple, so this would work well for reluctant readers too.