Smackdown Books 2018

Wolf Hollow
Salt to the Sea
The Serpent King
Optimists Die First
The Hate U Give
Orphan Island
Dan vs. Nature
The Female of the Species
Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere
Paper Girls, Vol. 1
The Passion of Dolssa
The Distance Between Us
When We Collided
Louis parmi les spectres
Girl in the Blue Coat
Defy the Stars

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ketchup Clouds vs. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

Ketchup Clouds is written in a series of letters that British schoolgirl Zoe Collins (a pseudonym of her own creation) sends to Stuart, an American convict on death row for the murder of his wife and neighbor. Why? Because she wants to confess her “dark and terrible secret” to someone.  Who better than an anonymous man an ocean away who understands the guilt, remorse, and need for redemption that she does?

We won’t give away what that dark and terrible secret is, but it involves a love triangle, because of course it does, it’s YA fiction. There are other dark secrets in Zoe’s family that also kept things interesting.  We sometimes felt frustrated with Zoe and some of the stupid choices she makes, which isn’t a knock against the book. How many of us can’t relate to the trajectory life can take us on after a few bad decisions, after all?

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass is told by Piedad (Piddy) Sanchez, a capable high school student and the daughter of a Cuban-American single mother.  In an attempt to make a better home for the two of them, Piddy’s mother moves them to a new building, which means a new school for Piddy. Shortly after arriving, a girl she doesn’t even know runs up to her in the hall with the news that someone named Yaqui Delgado does indeed, as the title so clearly indicates, want to kick Piddy’s ass.  It seems Piddy’s crime is possessing curves that have drawn the attention of some of the boys, including Yaqui’s boyfriend.

It seems that tales of bullying are popular in this year’s Smackdown, and this is a story about bullying… But it’s a lot more complex than that simple label.  Piddy is objectified and labelled because of her body, and “slut-shamed” on social media in a way that is far too reminiscent of  what is sometimes seen in the headlines.  There’s a telling parallel drawn between Piddy’s victimization at school and the domestic abuse suffered by a tenant in her old building. Yaqui Delagado, awful as she is, isn’t demonized; instead, we get a glimpse as to what might contribute to a victim becoming a victimizer. And, when the “right” thing is done and the proper authorities involved, the answers and solutions given are neither as sufficient nor effective as they should be in a just world.

In the midst of the trauma, though, there’s also joy and strength, particularly seen in Piddy’s friendship with aunt-figure Lila, and within their community. It was not surprising to read that the author, Meg Medina, based this book around some of her own high school experiences. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass has an authenticity that helped us to connect to and empathize with Piddy in a way that we didn’t with Zoe in Ketchup Clouds.

Side note - If not Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass in particular, a book like this should be required reading for every teacher.  Yes, it can get frustrating when students don’t show up, do their homework, or hang on our every lectured word. Even if we know they’re have issues at home or with peers, it’s so much simpler to write off their truancy and lack of engagement as laziness or lack of effort. This book (or another like it) might give us a glimpse of what it might actually feel like for one of those students, and help us see the fear and the pain and the loneliness that are often at the root of “bad” behaviour.

Long story short, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass kicks ass, and wins this round!

-Chandra & Shelley

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