Aniana del Mar Jumps In

Dial. Mar. 2023. 384p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593531815.
Gr 5-9–Acclaimed Dominican American poet Mendez’s novel in verse centers around the coming-of-age struggles of a Latinx tween pushing against the expectations of a strict (and loving) family, while also figuring out her identity as an athlete with chronic illness. Aniana and Papi keep a secret from conservative Mami—instead of attending church on weekdays, the pair go to the YMCA where Ani is excelling at swimming. When the Afro-Dominican girl can barely get out of bed because of pain in her body, their secret is out, and Aniana is diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Convinced it’s a punishment from God for lying, Mami forbids her from swimming. When Papi is away because of his work with the Coast Guard, Ani begins to pull away from him, too. Mendez never passes judgment on Ani’s parents. Her mother’s fears come from the traumatic death of Mami’s twin brother during a hurricane, and she found comfort in religion during a bout of postpartum depression. A near-tragedy finally unites them, and the realistic conclusion will satisfy readers. Multidimensional characters and the time-honored conflict between daughters and their mothers will ring true. Spanish and English are often used interchangeably in Ani’s conversations with her parents, and details about the Dominican Republic further add authenticity to the work. Mendez uses concrete poems, haiku, and tanka throughout to narrate this accessible story of forgiveness.
VERDICT The nuanced depiction of disability, intergenerational conflict, and family trauma make this a must-have for all middle grade shelves.

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