Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish

Lynn: When you’re a six-foot tall, 180-pound eighth-grader known as the Mastodon of Montgomery Middle, what do you do? If you’re cash-strapped Marcus Vega, the titular protagonist of Pablo Cartaya’s second book, Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanishyou run an escort service walking kids to school past bully Stephen Hobert for a fee. Responsible and caring, Marcus does everything he can to help his hard-working single mom and watch out for younger brother Charlie, who has Down Syndrome. He doesn’t say much and keeps his cool about most things. “When you’re as big as me, you can’t get rattled easily or you’ll scare people,” he explains.

Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish by Pablo CartayaBut one word is sure to trigger Marcus’s rage. Stephen Hobert, who “uses words like throwing punches,” calls Charlie the “R” word, so Marcus knocks him down. The principal tells Marcus’ mom to regroup, so the family heads to Puerto Rico, where Marcus’s father lives. One of the things I enjoyed most about Cartaya’s first book, The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora (2017), was his vibrant portrait of a Miami neighborhood. Like its predecessor, Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish provides wonderful descriptions of the sights, smells, and tastes of its setting.

As Puerto Rico works its magic, Charlie blossoms, Marcus’s mom relaxes, and even Marcus begins to open up. Their warm and exuberant extended family embraces the trio, but responds less than enthusiastically whenever Marcus’s father comes up. Despite their reservations, they helps Marcus look for his dad while giving Marcus the space he needs to draw his own conclusions.

The entire cast of characters shines as brightly as the Caribbean sun in this endearing and heartfelt book. Readers will be rooting for Marcus as he discovers who his real hero is, begins to see himself differently, and learns the true meaning of family.

About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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