In searching for his absentee father, a biracial boy gets closer to his Puerto Rican roots.
Though Marcus Vega was born in Puerto Rico, the 14-year-old hasn’t been back since he was 2. Marcus lives outside of Philadelphia with his mom, a white woman, and his little brother, Charlie, who has Down syndrome. Marcus towers over the other kids, and he uses his size to his advantage, walking kids to and from school and stashing their phones in his locker (out of the principal’s reach) for cash. After a school bully calls Charlie “the one word that sends [him] into a blind rage,” Marcus punches him in the mouth and is suspended. Marcus’ mom decides that the three of them should go on a trip to regroup, which is how they find themselves in Puerto Rico looking for the dad Marcus hasn’t seen in 10 years, a search that takes them and readers all over the island. Immigrant and first-generation readers will relate to Marcus’ feelings of not belonging in Puerto Rico. Marcus’ eagerness to reconnect with the father who abandoned him is believably naïve and allows him to overlook his relatives’ criticisms of his dad, but both they and Cartaya allow him the space to come to his own conclusions. Marcus' Puerto Rican relatives are lively and loving; their English conversations with Marcus include non-italicized Spanish words and phrases that provide cultural texture.
A compelling read about the meaning of family, identity, and culture, set in pre–Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico. (Historical fiction. 10-14)