Lynn: I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that it took me a while to work Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass (Candlewick 2013) up to the top of my reading stack. I know how important the subject of bullying is but shamefully my escapist-reader tendencies kept diverting me this summer. Fortunately I was getting nudges from more diligent colleagues and finally with a sense of duty I settled in to read this.
Well, I’m here to grovel and admit I should have gotten to this a lot sooner and not just for duty or thematic importance but because this was a terrific reading experience and one that turned my assumptions upside down from the very first page. First of all, this story of a girl being bullied features physical violence not just the more typically portrayed mean girl nastiness. Secondly there are a lot of caring adults who eventually provide help and lastly the resolution is realistic and reveals how difficult it truly is to find solutions to this difficult problem.
Piddy Sanchez is new to her Queens school after she and her mother move to a different apartment. Piddy is a good student, hard-working and bright and she is astonished when another girl warns her that the terrifying trouble-maker, Yaqui Delgado, says she is going to “crush” Piddy. At first Piddy isn’t worried because she doesn’t even know Yaqui but quickly realizes she is in real trouble from Yaqui and her gang. Piddy has a lot going on already, balancing her honors classes with work at the wonderfully portrayed local beauty shop, and trying to figure out what is behind the gossip she overhears about her mother and the father she has never known anything about.
Medina’s portrait of the impact of the steadily increasing bullying on Piddy is painfully vivid as Piddy’s fear and sense of hopelessness takes over her life. Trying to avoid Yaqui leads Piddy to skipping classes, then ditching school altogether. Her grades slide and she’s in trouble with her teachers and her mother, unable to risk asking for help. It is only when a video of Yaqui’s vicious attack on her is posted to YouTube, that Piddy works up the courage to accept help.
Medina’s portrait of bullying is spot on along with the equally realistic picture of just how complicated the issue is. Medina tackles a lot more than bullying and does all of it wonderfully. Her characters are drawn with great depth and even secondary characters emerge fully fleshed and layered. I loved the warm portrayals of the lively denizens of Salon Corazon and Piddy’s supportive but exhausted mother and her friend. These are characters and events that have taken up residence in my head and heart and I think will do the same for teen readers. With its interesting, untidy and totally realistic resolution, this would make a terrific discussion for a teen book club. Don’t make my mistake – read this one now.