Note from Klem-Marí Cajigas, GLLI blog Guest Editor for #WorldKidLit Month 2020: today I am very excited and proud to welcome Luis Maldonado to the Global Literatures in Libraries Initiative. Luis and I have been friends since our first year in college, when we each found the only other Puerto Rican student in the Stetson University Honors Program (spoiler alert: we were the only Puerto Rican students in that program). In addition to a shared cultural background, we bonded over a love of literature and a commitment to academic excellence. He has graciously volunteered to lend his love of reading, and his beautiful writing, to introducing some Young Adult titles to us. Welcome Luis! I am so glad you are here!
Sonia Manzano’s The (R)evolution of Evelyn Serrano is as entertaining as it is didactic. Set in the 1960s, the story’s protagonist, (Rosa) Evelyn Serrano, is wise beyond her years, yet every bit her age. She is witty, sassy, and her internal thoughts are uproariously funny.
Evelyn was comfortable living in the modest New York apartment with a room of her own until a visitor came to town. Little did she know how quickly and profoundly her life would change when that visitor – her grandmother – came to visit unannounced. Through her grandmother she learns not only about Puerto Rican history, but also her family’s history, and about the complexities of how individuals’ personalities can impact family dynamics.
Manzano is a gifted storyteller whose scene-setting prowess consistently shines throughout this historical fiction piece. The way that she physically describes the characters creates vivid pictures that help move the story forward; those descriptions also bring levity as the reader gets to see things through Evelyn’s detail-oriented and sometimes unforgiving eyes. What stands out about Manzano’s portrayal of the protagonist is that she gives Evelyn a strong voice and arms her with intelligence and maturity. However, she also manages to preserve Evelyn’s innocence by giving her a certain naivety that is appropriate for her years and experience. This combination makes Evelyn a believable and likeable character.
Importantly, the dialogue between the characters is exceptionally realistic. From their expressed frustrations, to the pain in their words, to the tone and comedic elements of the arguments between them, Manzano does a wonderful job of bringing the reality of natural conversation into the story by how she has crafted the dialogue. These ingredients yield a novel that both captures and holds the reader’s interest.
Perhaps one of the best aspects of this book is how well Manzano infuses history into the story. Yet, it is not so dense or sterile that it reads like a dry history book; rather, by creating such rich and dynamic characters, it makes what could be described as a Puerto Rican History for Dummies an entertaining way to educate readers who may have little or no knowledge of Puerto Rico’s history. The parallel storyline involving Evelyn’s family history, such that there is a personal history being examined amidst the cultural and event-related history, was an ingenious way to make the abstract more personal and a really gifted way to create context and draw interest.
The reading difficulty level is appropriate for late elementary or early middle school ages. That said, some of the content bears deeper exploration which could help readers mine and more fully examine several underlying themes, such as body image, stereotyping, and xenophobia. This work presents an opportunity for cross-collaboration between language arts educators and guidance counselors (or others similarly trained) who can help tactfully navigate the complexities of some of the characters’ interpersonal relationships and the overall dynamics of the family. The historical aspects of the novel could also serve as a springboard for a history research assignment, in which students could be tasked with researching and writing about some of the events portrayed in the novel. So, although Manzano’s prose makes for a quick read, there is a lot of substance to unpack and content to analyze from multiple lenses.
Written by Sonia Manzano
2013, Scholastic, Inc.
Awards: 2013 Pura Belpré Honor Book for Narrative
Page Count: 224 pages
The Honorable Luis Maldonado graduated from Stetson University, magna cum laude, with a degree in English, and the University of Florida, Levin College of Law, cum laude. Since 2004 he has worked in the nonprofit and public sectors, having served as an advocate for domestic violence victims and foster children, as well as counsel for the State of Florida in dependency hearings. He began his federal government service in 2006; during that time he has handled administrative trial and appellate matters, federal litigation, and served in advisory and management roles. He was appointed to the bench in 2020 and serves as an Immigration Judge in Memphis, Tennessee. Judge Maldonado is a member of Stetson University’s Board of Trustees.