A slacker learns life lessons from a slam-poet classmate in an inspiring if overly optimistic school story.
Grunge-rock devotee Sam has been trying to avoid the attention of teachers and other students ever since his mom left town two years earlier. Then the equally quiet Luis Cárdenas arrives in Sam’s English class, and meddlesome Ms. Cassidy seats the two of them together. Rumors fly about Luis: His brother is an infamous gangster, and there is a mean-looking scar on Luis’ neck. Sam doesn’t see Luis’ true colors until Ms. Cassidy announces that the class will have a poetry slam. Luis not only throws himself into creating a poem, he inspires Sam to do the same. The boys’ sudden, unmitigated enthusiasm for a school project may be hard to swallow, but there is something infectiously hopeful in Luis’ devotion to poetry, as well as in the inspiration Sam takes from old footage of Kurt Cobain. When Luis disappears after a gang fight, Sam, once a loner, teams up with classmates, teachers, neighbors and old friends to find out what has happened. Short, punchy sentences, paragraphs and chapters give the novel’s prose a sense of motion, and Luis’ poems, interspersed with the narrative, give readers added insight into Luis’ character.
Unabashedly didactic, but moving nonetheless. (Fiction. 12-16)