The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano

Scholastic. 2012. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-32505-9.
Gr 5–8—Manzano is, of course, best known for her role as Maria on Sesame Street. In this book, she has brought to life an incident from 1969, when a group of young Nationalist Puerto Ricans, known as the Young Lords, occupied the First Spanish Methodist Church, after the clergy turned down their requests to use the building during the week as a place for breakfast and other social services for the poor. The story is related in the voice of Evelyn Serrano, a young teen who realizes that she wants to find ways to create social change. The girl's social consciousness comes alive in tandem with her grandmother's arrival. Her abuela takes over Evelyn's room, forcing her to occupy the couch. Even with this to grapple with, along with the contentious relationship between her grandmother and mother, Evelyn eventually forges a relationship with the older woman, who was a Nationalist in Puerto Rico. She also discovers more about her grandfather, who was on the other side of the political debate, and this makes her all the more anxious to be a part of history. Manzano makes the Puerto Rican barrio come alive, and the atmosphere she creates reminded me a great deal of West Side Story. Of course, she manages to insert a quick reference to Sesame Street itself, which also first aired in 1969.
Set in the summer of 1969, Manzano’s solid first novel deals with the political and cultural awakening of fourteen-year-old Rosa María Evelyn del Carmen Serrano, who tells us straight off that she prefers to be called Evelyn because “El Barrio, Spanish Harlem, U.S.A., did not need another Rosa, María, or Carmen.” She’s not particularly happy with her life: her best friend has dropped her, her mother embarrasses her, and she hates the stench of overflowing garbage cans in her neighborhood. To make things worse, she has to give up her bedroom when her grandmother arrives from Puerto Rico, and Evelyn’s charismatic orange-haired abuela is not an easy person to live with. She’s loud, messy, and opinionated, and she constantly clashes with Evelyn’s more conservative mother. Abuela becomes involved with the Young Lords, a radical Puerto Rican Nationalist group working to empower the residents of Spanish Harlem, and she shares with Evelyn pieces of her own family history relating to the 1937 Ponce Massacre, part of an earlier Nationalist movement. Evelyn becomes increasingly radicalized and joins a protest occupation of her church. Based on true events, the story develops organically through well-realized fictional characters dealing with complex family dynamics. Manzano has a gift for providing just the right amount of historical and political context for today’s young readers without slowing the pace. The story has obvious parallels to Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer (rev. 3/10), and the two would make a great pairing. kathleen t. horning

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