February 23, 2018

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Jazz Owls by Margarita Engle | SLJ Review

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redstarENGLE, Margarita. Jazz Owls. 192p. S. & S./Atheneum. May 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534409439.

Gr 7 Up –Set during the Zoot Suit riots, this novel in verse tells a fictional account of a dark time in American history. Marisela and Lorena are jazz owls who work all day and dance all night. They also dance during the day as they twist and turn trying to navigate their place in Los Angeles during World War II. They face racism at home for their Latino heritage despite having family members serving overseas. Marisela falls in love with a musician, while Lorena dreams about saving enough money to go to school. Zoot suits—loose suits perfect for dancing to jazz and rumba music that has heavy Afro-Latino influences—are frowned upon. Tensions rise as newspapers print headlines that invoke fear. Sailors start pouring into the streets as they round up young Latino men, beat them, and burn their suits. This becomes a nightmare that repeats too many times, and while the forces that be ultimately end it, the Latino and African American communities are still raw from their physical and emotional abuses. The novel focuses on Marisela and Lorena with occasional verses from her parents, brother, and friends. Engle’s approach to a topic that may seem hard for teens to grasp is successful as readers will be cheering for the jazz owls to be able to not only dance, but to overcome racism. VERDICT A quick read perfect for history buffs, dance enthusiasts, poets, and just about anyone looking for a great story. Recommended.–Katie Llera, Bound Brook High School, NJ

This review was published in the School Library Journal February 2018 issue.

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