Today, I'm reviewing The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano. It's a short MG novel, but it packs a huge impact.
MMGM is a feature hosted by (fabulous) author Shannon Messenger on her blog every week!
Paperback, 224 pages
Expected publication: May 27th 2014 by Scholastic Press (first published September 1st 2012)
Synopsis via Goodreads:
There are two secrets Evelyn Serrano is keeping from her Mami and Papo her true feelings about growing up in her Spanish Harlem neighborhood, and her attitude about Abuela, her sassy grandmother who's come from Puerto Rico to live with them. Then, like an urgent ticking clock, events erupt that change everything. The Young Lords, a Puerto Rican activist group, dump garbage in the street and set it on fire, igniting a powerful protest. When Abuela steps in to take charge, Evelyn is thrust into the action. Tempers flare, loyalties are tested. Through it all, Evelyn learns important truths about her Latino heritage and the history makers who shaped a nation. Infused with actual news accounts from the time period, Sonia Manzano has crafted a gripping work of fiction based on her own life growing up during a fiery, unforgettable time in America, when young Latinos took control of their destinies.
On the one hand, The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano does what I like most about diverse MG/YA literature: it covers a time period and a set of historical events that very few books have covered, and does so in a way that's engaging and easy to comprehend.
Rosa María Evelyn del Carmen Serrano is a young Latina girl living in East Harlem in the 1960s, during a period of great unrest. The Young Lords have begun protesting urban renewal and inequality, and Evelyn - who makes it charmingly clear in the book why she doesn't want to be known as Rosa or Maria - details the unrest and the ever growing changes in her community, through her own day-to-day experiences.
Manzano does a fantastic job of showing readers what it means to be a young Latina girl in an age when your community has long been considered the forgotten one of the city, and how it feels to have one's own personal experiences begin to be impacted by a greater, collective whole.
Readers will see Evelyn develop an increasing awareness of social and political issues, both directly as a result of interacting with her activist grandmother, and indirectly as she observes the changing trends of her neighborhood. When we're first introduced to Evelyn, she's a typical teenager who is easily annoyed with her mother, and eager to think about her new job at the five and dime.
But as time passes, we begin to see her recognize the power of the individual spirit and how it can make an impact in a community's future. Evelyn also begins to take ownership of pride in herself as a young Latina girl, and in her future. She learns about her culture and Puerto Rico's often chaotic past, and draws from that as she begins to her form her own (r)evolution. It's inspiring and engaging, and I have no doubt that readers will be encouraged to look into this period of East Harlem's history after reading.
But as much as I liked this book, I'll have to agree with The Book Smugglers that the impact of Evelyn Serrano is ultimately lessened by the overall writing. Manzano makes some writing choices in the book that often resulted in stilted scenes and an uneven timeline, which didn't necessarily make for the best development.
There were a couple of instances where I felt that Manzano was on the verge of illustrating a really good subplot - a specific relationship between a father and son come to mind - but the writing didn't necessarily help with the follow through.
I will concede that I am definitely older than the targeted audience though, and it's fully possible that I had a different set of expectations for the book - largely because of the subject matter - that I should't necessarily expect, because the story needs to be told for a different audience.