When We Make It

Dial. Sept. 2021. 384p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780593324486.
Gr 8 Up–Sarai is a Nuyorican (Puerto Rican born in New York City) teen growing up in Bushwick, Brooklyn, with her sister, Estrella, and their Mami. Seeking clarity about her identity, she wonders if she is Puerto Rican enough since she wasn’t born on the island. Her Spanish is a work in progress. Although she doesn’t always have the words to express herself, emotions are bubbling at the surface as she struggles with poverty, Mami’s mental illness, gentrification of her neighborhood, and more. In this novel-in-verse, Velasquez provides a candidly fierce voice as Sarai finds her own. The author celebrates the teen’s story unapologetically, with passion and respect. Exquisite poetry portrays not only anger and fear, but also hope, as “making it” may encompass a range of results. Layered themes unfold as Sarai’s sojourn continues. Readers will find themselves empathizing with certain characters at different times and will root for Sarai to survive and proclaim her own story with intention: “Mami taught me how lethal a woman’s mouth could be. How my mouth is an open wound. A pocket that stores the weapon.” The book explores mental illness, poverty, misogyny, colorism, sexual assault, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, domestic violence, gun violence, and pregnancy loss.
VERDICT Gripping and soulful, this dynamic debut novel-in-verse is a must for every collection.

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