Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Eighth grader Marcus Vega looks like a grown up. He's tall, he's big, and at first glance some may think he's an adult... or that he's a bully.
He's not an adult, but he does have a lot of responsibility. His mom works a lot, leaving Marcus to take care of his younger brother, Charlie. Charlie is only one year younger than Marcus; Charlie is also a kid with Down syndrome, so part of the role Marcus takes on is being his brother's protector from school bullies.
Folks may think Marcus is a bully, because he's so big. Instead, though, he's turned that into in a plus: he's the kid who protects others from bullies. And, since his mom is struggling financially, he charges for the service.
When the real school bully picks on Charlie, using the R word, Marcus can't help himself -- he punches the kid. And earns a suspension. And his mom, not sure what else to do, and decides they all need a change of scenery so takes the boys to Puerto Rico to visit her ex-husband's relatives.
Here's what you need to know about her ex: he left ten years ago. He hasn't been in touch since. And Marcus believes in him. Believes that if he just sends the right email, says the right things, his dad will show up and somehow fix things. Fix it so his mom doesn't struggle, so they don't have to worry about how Charlie is treated at school, fix it so that Marcus can be a kid again. This last one is something Marcus doesn't realize, doesn't say, but it's clear to the reader that Marcus is tired of being the responsible grown up.
Marcus was born in Puerto Rico, but he's been raised outside of Philadelphia, he doesn't speak Spanish. The five day trip to Puerto Rico is fantastic -- they reconnect with family, his mother relaxes and also gets a clearer view of her life and what has been happening with her sons, and Marcus tries to track down his father. It's clear to everyone but Marcus that Marcus has created a fantasy about his father -- but Marcus has to learn the hard way.
A great book about how family both supports you, but also lets you down. And about somehow you have to take a little vacation from your life to get a clearer picture of who you are and what you want.
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