Against the backdrop of World War II, a patriotic Mexican-American family proudly contributes to the war effort despite pervasive racism.
Every night Marisela, 16, and her sister, Lorena, 14, join other “owls,” girls who go out dancing with Navy men at the USO club in LA before they are deployed. Working in a cannery by day and chaperoned by their zoot suit–wearing 12-year-old brother, Ray, by night, the sisters dance their way through the growing racial tensions in the city. Punished for speaking Spanish in school and forbidden from speaking Spanish at work, dancing is a joyous means of self-expression and connection with Latin culture. Everything comes to a head in June 1943 when marauding sailors brutally attack Mexican-Americans in a weeklong series of what are erroneously dubbed “Zoot Suit Riots” by the press. Engle’s (Miguel’s Brave Knight, 2017, etc.) characteristic free verse is unfortunately not up to tackling the density of the multiple issues and events that led up to this tragedy. In addition, switching between a number of different points of view in the section dedicated to the riots creates an emotional distance between the reader and the unfolding human tragedy. Some of the thoughts put into the mouths of the young people also feel incongruously mature.
This worthy effort falls short of creating a riveting narrative. (Novel in verse. 11-18)