Puerto Rican teen Elena grapples with guilt about her twin sister Mel’s suicide in this novel in verse for reluctant teen readers.
Elena doesn’t connect to her Puerto Rican identity: She straightens her hair to fit in and (while ashamed of herself for not speaking up) never defends her culture from white peers’ mockery. Conversely, Mel always wears her natural curls and revels in their heritage. By 11, Elena notices that, “The nervous feelings / came to [Mel] more often.” Six months after their quinceañera, Mel dies by suicide. Elena’s haunted—she knew Mel was suffering but didn’t do anything. Their parents hadn’t helped Mel either: Their “Papi had no patience / for her,” and Mami “told her to pray.” Evocative poems—all narrated from Elena’s perspective—connect readers to her overwhelming guilt and shame, which quickly lead to reckless drinking. Elena’s arrested for drunken driving and subsequently sent to rehab, which turns out not to be a safe space—the only other brown-skinned person is the groundskeeper and an aggressive, racial slur–slinging white boy shows up. Unfortunately, the seriousness of the lack of safe spaces for people of color to deal with mental issues isn’t fully explored, and the book ends rather abruptly.
An examination of Latinx identity, family bonds, mental health, suicide, grief, and guilt that will hopefully spark much-needed dialogue. Necessary. (Verse novel. 14-18)