Lizard in a Zoot Suit

Graphic Universe. Aug. 2020. 144p. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781541586956.
Gr 5 Up–Latinx teen twin sisters Flaca and Cuata are aching to sneak out for a night on the town with friends in 1943 downtown Los Angeles. When a group of aggressive sailors pick a fight with the twins’ friends, an oversize anthropomorphic lizard comes to their rescue. Grateful for his help and curious about his origins, the girls take the lizard, Chulito, home with them to try to learn more. But Flaca and Cuata soon discover that crooked naval scientist Dr. James Rogers has been searching for Chulito for years and will stop at nothing to get the lizard in his custody. The two-toned artwork relies on a soft, buttery yellow, with sturdy yet sinuous black lines, minimalist backgrounds, and clever uses of silhouettes to create a sophisticated retro feel. Chulito never speaks, but his expressive face and gestures clearly convey meaning. Spanish, including slang, is sprinkled throughout but readers are not provided with a glossary or in-text translation; in some cases, meaning can be inferred. Derogatory terms—wetback and spic—are used but not gratuitously so. Finnegan also cleverly draws a parallel between the Latinx community’s treatment of Chulito, whose family was displaced by humans, and the treatment of Latinx individuals by white communities. A brief history of the Zoot Suit Riots, a six-day race-based conflict between American servicemen and Mexican Americans in 1943 Southern California, is included in the back matter, alongside sketches and notes on character design and page layouts.
VERDICT A unique and effective lens through which fans of historical fiction can view the treatment of the “other” and race issues of the 1940s.

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