Becoming Beatriz by Tami Charles. September 17, 2019. Charlesbridge Teen, 260 p. ISBN: 9781580897785. Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.
Up until her fifteenth birthday, the most important thing in the world to Beatriz Mendez was her dream of becoming a professional dancer and getting herself and her family far from the gang life that defined their days–that and meeting her dance idol Debbie Allen on the set of her favorite TV show, Fame. But after the latest battle in a constant turf war leaves her gang leader brother, Junito, dead and her mother grieving, Beatriz has a new set of priorities. How is she supposed to feel the rhythm when her gang needs running, when her mami can’t brush her own teeth, and when the last thing she can remember of her old self is dancing with her brother, followed by running and gunshots? When the class brainiac reminds Beatriz of her love of the dance floor, her banished dreams sneak back in. Now the only question is- will the gang let her go?
Set in New Jersey in 1984, Beatriz’s story is a timeless one of a teenager’s navigation of romance, gang culture, and her own family’s difficult past. A companion novel to the much-lauded Like Vanessa.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Criminal culture, Homophobic slur, Mild language, Mild sexual themes, Violence, Domestic abuse, Marijuana dealing
Booklist (July 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 21))
Grades 7-10. Beatriz, first introduced in Charles’ Like Vanessa (2018), wanted to dance and become famous for it, until the day of her fifteenth birthday, when a rival gang drove by her family’s bodega and murdered her brother, Junito. He’d been the head of the Diablos, and Beatriz a blossoming Diabla, though she still harbored her dreams of meeting Debbie Allen and making her Fame dreams come true. After her brother was taken from her, though, she stopped dancing. It takes her a year of floating along with the Diablos and trying to do what she thinks Junito would have wanted before she goes back to dreaming and, ultimately, becoming whom she was meant to be. Though the situations and story line are heavy, and the average modern reader might not easily relate to a gang in the ’80s, Beatriz’s often funny, descriptive first-person narrative is a welcoming avenue into her story. Readers with diverse backgrounds will feel at home with Beatriz’s identities as Latina, Black, and American, and everyone will be cheering her on, right up until the satisfying, heartwarming end.
Kirkus Reviews starred (July 15, 2019)
In a city where “cocaine is king,” can a teenage gang leader dare to dream of another life? Newark, New Jersey. 1984. Beatriz Mendez and her older brother, Junito, lead the powerful Latin Diablos gang. Everything changes on Beatriz’s 15th birthday when a Haitian gang leaves Junito for dead and Beatriz badly injured. A Like Vanessa (2018) spinoff, this page-turner opens dramatically with a visceral fight scene that introduces a fierce protagonist. Beatriz is a Spanglish-speaking Puerto Rican badass with “a blade tucked inside [her] cheek…to use on anybody who tries to step.” In the aftermath of Junito’s death, Beatriz struggles to maintain her standing as a Diabla, raise her grades (mostly D’s and F’s), and support her grief-stricken zombie of a mother. Though “dancing ain’t gonna pay the bills,” she allows her childhood dream of becoming a dancer to glimmer through her tough exterior each week when watching her favorite TV show, Fame. Told in the first person, this narrative is full of passion and humor, with flashbacks rooted in Beatriz’s beloved salsa music. Realistic newsprint clips effectively add context. A friendship/romance with a new boy contributes depth while avoiding predictability. As Beatriz transcends her trauma and self-doubt—“No such thing as a gangbanger turned famous dancer”—readers experience a necessary portrayal of a young Afro-Latina woman who makes her own path, one that isn’t straightforward, told in an extremely realistic voice. Inspiring and fresh. (historical notes) (Fiction. 12-18)
About the Author
Tami Charles is a former teacher and full-time author of picture books, middle grade and young adult novels, and nonfiction. As a teacher, she made it her mission to introduce her students to all types of literature, but especially diverse books. While it was refreshing to see a better selection than what she was accustomed to as a child, Tami felt there weren’t nearly as many diverse books as she’d hoped for. It was then that she decided to reignite her passion for writing. Tami is the author of the middle grade novel Like Vanessa (2018) and the picture book Freedom Soup (2019).
Her website is www.tamiwrites.com.
Becoming Beatriz Reading Guide with Discussion Questions
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