Last fall I posted the link to an interview with YA author Malin Alegria in which her new teen series Border Town was mentioned. Having grown up reading teen romance series from Sweet Valley High to Couples to The Girls of Canby Hall (seriously, I read them all) I was excited about this new series that Alegria described as being like SVH with brown kids. I pre-ordered the first book in the series, and while I waited for it to come in I thought I'd revisit my youth and read some Sweet Valley High.
While we can assume that Penny Ayala, one of Elizabeth Wakefield's newspaper pals, is either Latina or bicultural based on her last name (I'd have to read the series from the beginning to find out if her ethnicity is ever mentioned--summer project?) it isn't until book #42, Caught in the Middle, that a Latino character is prominently featured. Finally, some representation in the curiously all-white California world of the Wakefield twins!
In Caught in the Middle, popular (though secondary character in the series) cheerleader Sandra Bacon has met the boy of her dreams. The only problem is...he's MEXICAN! Say it ain't so!
Throughout the book (written by Kate Williams) we are reminded of just how different Sandy and Manny are. Manny and his family are: ______________ fill in the blank with whatever stereotype about Mexicans you can think of. Okay, I'm exaggerating. There's that scene when the couple goes to the Dairi Burger and Manuel mentions that he happens to know the burger is the specialty of the house. I was expecting him to say he knows this because his uncle / cousin / other family member is actually the cook at the Dairi Burger! But he doesn't. The point is, they come from different worlds, and his world is, well, weird! Williams writes on page 5: "After all, Manual came from a completely different world. His family was from Mexico and still spoke Spanish at home." We are also informed that, among his distinguishing characteristics, he has a lot of younger sibling he has to care for which is why he seems so mature. His mom makes tortillas from scratch. His home is repeatedly described in way that indicates it's cozy or homey but the subtext is that it's kind of run down and not as nice as the homes of Sandy and her white friends.
Sandy's parent, by the way, really dislike Mexicans. "Those people" are different, Mrs. Bacon tells Sandy when Sandy is trying to tell her about her new boyfriend. Sandy's parents don't want her dating a Mexican guy. What does she do? Of course, she hides this from them. She lies and betrays the person she claims to love. She even almost lets him get in trouble with the law by denying that she knows him. There came a point where I appreciated the Bacons' at least openness about their views on Mexicans. Sandy? I just wanted to slap that girl hard by the time I reached the last few chapters of the book.
Of course, in SVH style, all is resolved in the end. Sandy confesses to her parents. Just as Manuel is about to be arrested on suspicion of tampering with her boat and possibly causing it to explode, she confesses that not only does she know him but she's actually MADE OUT with him AND he didn't tamper with the boat, he saved her life! The Bacons have a change of heart, at least toward this one Mexican. Mr. Bacon even shakes his hand. And they live happily ever after.
Whew! That's a lot of SVH for one post. Part II coming soon!