Iron River

225p. Cinco Puntos. Sept. 2018. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781941026939; pap. $12.95. ISBN 9781941026946.
RedReviewStarGr 7 Up—Set in San Gabriel, CA in 1958, this novel captures life from the perspective of 12-year-old Manuel Maldonado, Jr. or Manny, who lives in an ethnically diverse section of the city. He is set apart from the majority of his Mexican American community due to his blue eyes, light skin, red hair, and large port-wine birthmark, which has earned him the nickname "Man-on-Fire." Manny is a gentle soul, but manages to get into constant trouble with his mischievous friends by doing things like throwing fruit at homeless people on passing trains or sneaking onto a stopped caboose and inadvertently being carried far away. However innocent Manny's infractions are, they land him in serious trouble—finding a dead person, witnessing the murder of a Black child—and result in heavy burdens of guilt, grief, and fear given the racist practices of the town police. Detailed descriptions of daily life and family members capture the essence of Manny's heritage in a time period and setting greatly impacted by institutionalized racism, drugs, gangs, and the lingering trauma of violence experienced by military war veterans. The trains are a constant backdrop to the story; iron currents of metal and noise, thundering through the boy's nighttime dreams and daytime reality, as he comes of age.
VERDICT An essential title for any library.

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