They Call Her Fregona: A Border Kid’s Poems

Penguin/Kokila. Sept. 2022. 256p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780593462577.
Gr 5-9–An unforgettable companion to They Call Me Güero. Many of the beloved characters who readers met in the previous work have returned in this story that picks up at the end of seventh grade. Joanna “Fregona” Padilla and Güero begin a tender romance at the start of this novel in verse. When Joanna’s dad gets taken away by ICE, partly because of Joanna’s bully’s desire for revenge, Güero believes he needs to come to the rescue. He organizes a protest that has terrible repercussions. This book packs several heavy themes with nuance and respect for the age group. Racism and xenophobia go from background to foreground in their border town, which heartbreakingly affects their families and friend group. “Has this hatred always been here, waiting for the right moment to spew from the cracks in civility?” Güero painfully asks himself. The character development deepens further, and the interactions between the protagonists are relatable and complex. Other themes explored include the usual middle school fare—crushes, first kisses, exploring sexuality and gender, going to the movies with friends, and even starting a band with your best pals. The budding poet uses different forms of poetry to narrate this tale, which educators can easily implement in a poetry unit. There is diverse representation in Güero’s circle, including Afro-Dominican, Korean, and gay friends. All other characters are primarily Latinx.
VERDICT This resonant middle grade title has so much heart. Purchase for every collection serving tweens.

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