Sammy and Juliana in Hollywoodby Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Robert Ramirez (Read by)
The Hollywood where Sammy Santos and Juliana Rios live is not the one on the West Coast, the one with all the glitz and glitter. This Hollywood is a tough barrio at the edges of a small town in southern New Mexico. The year is 1969 and Sammy and his fellow citizens of Hollywood attend Las Cruces High School where they face a world of racism, dress codes, the war in Vietnam and the everyday violence of their own barrio. In the summer before his senior year begins, Sammy falls in love with Juliana, a girl whose tough veneer disguises a world of hurt. In Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood, Benjamin Alire Saenz captures the essence of what it meant to grow up Chicano in Smalltown America in the late 1960s. He creates a cast of characters that embody humor, toughness, innocence and survival -- and in doing so, he evokes the bittersweet ambience found in such novels as Larry McMurtry's The Last Picture Show.
Nancy Crowder Chaplin
"His message is one of victory through endurance rather than escape, as Sammy finds ways to define himself and maintain his loyalties while circumstances prevent him from leaving the barrio. Even readers far removed from the poverty and prejudice that define his world will see this facet of the Mexican-American experience with empathy through Sammy’s eyes." —The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, starred review
"The barrio setting is as palpable as the wings that beat against Sammy's insides when danger lurks. The tough but caring family, neighbors, and friends speak in authentic dialogue liberally laced with Spanish that adds texture to the story, and an empathetic teacher and a stand against the school dress code provide a small victory to help Sammy weather the racism and poverty that fuel his emotions and his losses." —Booklist
"Written in a poetic first-person voice that incorporates some Spanish into the narrative, Sammy’s story of love, loss, and strong family ties is hard to forget." —Horn Book
"Expletives appear throughout as do large helpings of Spanish, without italics and not always with English echoed afterward, in perfect keeping both with Sammy's world and his self-perception. His hopes and plans for a better life, beyond the hold of Hollywood are poignant and palpable. This is a powerful and authentic look at a community's aspirations and the tragic losses that result from shattered dreams." —School Library Journal
"In natural, lucid prose, Sáenz captures Sammy's half-formed thoughts, expressed in sentence fragments, and the confusion and uncertainty of an introspective, introverted boy on his path towards becoming a man. Sáenz' has an ear for dialogue, not just the idiosyncratic phrases and expressions that characterize the residents of Hollywood, but also the way that Sammy narrates his tale, in a poetic, lyrical manner that begs to be read out loud and shared with others, placed in the hands of anyone who's ever struggled with the confusion, loss, and contradictions that come with saying goodbye." —San Antonio Current
"Sammy & Juliana comes straight from the streets and the times. Sammy just isn’t on the cusp of manhood, he’s on the edge of an often violent and frustrating world that demands difficult choices and sacrifice. And Sáenz’s lyrical prose provides the soundtrack to that tumultuous life borne of the barrio of a small town." —San Antonio Express-News
"Top picks for the year include Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Sáenz…Set in the barrio of a New Mexico town during the Vietnam war, this heart-rending story of love and loss follows Sammy Santos through his senior year of high school. The gritty details about drugs, sex, domestic violence, the liberal doses of Spanglish, even the profanity, make this story feel like an authentic portrayal of what it meant to be poor and Chicano in America in the 1960s." —Miami Herald
" It is one of the best Viet Nam era novels for this age I have read. The love story, though over rather early in the book, is very sweet. I particularly liked the relationship between Sammy and his father. We do not often see books for this age where kids genuinely respect and love their parents." —Children's Literature
"This is a sober, moving, coming-of-age story…[Young adults] of today can relate. Excellent for cultural studies." —KLIATT
"The verisimilitude of teen angst, speech and behavior is what makes Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood a powerful reading experience. Honest and heartfelt, this is an extraordinary book." —El Paso Times
"Please do yourself and your students a favor and search for this beautiful work of art…Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood deserves top billing in our school libraries. Find it! Buy it!" —Michigan Reading Journal
"Saenz never overdoes it. Like a ballerina whose graceful dancing effortlessly belies her athleticism, Saenz writes as if he is merely documenting the lives of a small segment of America, lifting the cover for us to peer down on the struggles of this group of young adults as they play out before us." —El Paso Inside & Out Magazine
"While the many deaths are depressing, the ultimate message is how hope and memory combine to free even the most tormented soul. Readers who speak Spanish will enjoy the juxtaposition of two languages throughout the novel." —Paper Tigers
- Random House Audio Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Unabridged, 6 CDs, 6 hrs. 30 min.
- Product dimensions:
- 5.50(w) x 6.38(h) x 1.24(d)
- Age Range:
- 10 - 12 Years
Read an Excerpt
Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood
By Benjamin Saenz
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Benjamin Saenz
All right reserved.
I remember her eyes, the gray of a sky about to let loose a storm. I remember the way she placed her finger on her bottom lip when she was lost in thoughts as dark as her eyes. I'd have given anything to live that close to her lips.
I used to picture her eyes as I was lying in bed. Her eyes and that finger touching her bottom lip. I'd lie there and listen to the radio on my favorite station, K-O-M-A in Oklahoma City. It reached me all the way to where I lived in southern New Mexico. But it could only reach me at night. Just at night. I used to wait and hope they'd play that song by Frankie Valle You're just too good . . . Even if I was half asleep, if I heard the song, I'd suddenly be awake. I'd hum along and put together a scene: a girl dressed up for me and a dance floor shiny as glass. Even the ice cubes in our drinks sparkled in the light. That girl was Juliana. And the whole damned world was mine. I need you ba-a-by . . . And then, after the song was over, I'd fall asleep exhausted from trying to keep the two of us together. Being obsessed with Juliana was hard work. The word obsession came into my vocabulary the second I met Juliana.
It was the way she looked at me that kept me coming back. Just as I was about to give up on her,just as I was about to tell her, "Look, screw it all. I don't need to suffer like this. Just can't take it." Every time I was about to tell her something like that, she stretched out her arm and made a fist. She'd tap her fist with her other hand, until I nodded and pried it open. I would stare at her open palm, and she would ask: "Do you see?"
And I would nod and say, "I see."
"You see everything now, don't you?"
"Yes, everything," I'd say.
"You see everything."
"Yes. Todo, todo, todo."
Now, when I think of her open, outstretched hand, I have to admit I didn't see a thing. I see my lips moving, "Yes, todo, todo." I wonder why I lied to her. Maybe it wasn't a bad lie. Maybe it was. Maybe there aren't any good lies. I don't know. I still don't know. And I didn't know anything about reading palms either. I've never known anything about that. Not then. Not now. One thing I did know--no matter how many times she let me pry her hand open, her fists were still clenched. They'd stay that way forever.
Juliana letting me pry open her fist. That was a lie. Maybe it was a good lie. I think it was.
I told her once that she collected secrets like some people collected stamps.
"You're full of shit," she said. "Where do you get that crap? You're so full of shit."
"No, I'm not," I said.
"Well," she said, "everyone needs to collect something."
"Collect something else," I said.
"No, I don't like them. That's your thing, Sammy. Did you know everyone calls you 'the Librarian'?" She looked at me. I pretended I knew. I didn't. But I pretended. And she let me. "And besides," she said, "only gringos can afford books. But secrets don't cost a damn thing."
She was wrong about that. Secrets cost plenty.
I used to write her notes in class that said, "Stop collecting."
"Not yet," she'd write back.
"Then tell me one. Just one secret." What did I think she was going to tell me?
The first time she told me what she was thinking, I found myself trembling. "I've always wanted to smoke a cigarette." That's what she whispered. I pictured her wearing a backless dress in some smoky bar with a cigarette between her lips. A drink in her hand. I pictured my hand on her bare back--that's what made me tremble. And that song came into my head you'd be like . . . I almost offered to buy her a pack, buy her two packs, buy her a carton. But I was sixteen and could never talk when I needed to--and my pockets were empty. So I just stood there trying to figure out what to do with my hands. I wanted to die.
That night, I decided to be a man. I was tired of sitting there like a chair. That was me. Sammy Santos. A chair. Sitting there. Thinking. As if thinking ever did any good. To hell with everything. After dinner, I walked out of the house, borrowed Paco's bike and stole two cases of Dr Pepper bottles from Mrs. Franco. She had a nice house. She didn't live in Hollywood. She didn't need the bottles. I cashed them in at the Pic Quick on Solano--and bought my first pack of cigarettes. My dad wanted to know where I was. "Just taking a walk," I said.
Dad's smile almost broke me. "You're like your mom," he said. "She'd walk and think. You take after her." He looked so happy. If you can be happy and sad at the same time. That's how he looked when he talked about her.
I hated to lie to him. But I couldn't tell him I was stealing Dr Pepper bottles from Mrs. Franco. I couldn't. He thought I was some kind of altar boy. He never went a week without telling me I was good. Good? What's that? Sometimes I wanted to yell, "You don't know, Dad. You don't know these things." I wanted to yell that. It would have broken his heart.
Later, in bed, I held the red pack of Marlboros and studied it like I was going to be tested on what it looked like. I smelled the cigarettes through the cellophane--and it was then that I . . .
Excerpted from Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Saenz Copyright © 2006 by Benjamin Saenz. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
BENJAMIN ALIRE SÁENZ was born in his grandmother's house in Picacho, New Mexico--on the outskirts of Las Cruces, New Mexico where Juliana in Hollywood is set. He was the fourth of seven children and was brought up in a traditional Mexican-American Catholic family. His family spoke mostly Spanish at home, and it was only through his education in the public schools that he learned to speak and write in English. He entered the seminary in 1972, a decision that was as much political as it was religious: he was heavily influenced by such Catholic thinkers as Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, César Chavez and the Berrigan brothers. After concluding his theological studies at the University of Louvain, he was ordained a Catholic priest. Three and a half years later, he left the priesthood. At the age of 30, he entered the Creative Writing Program at the University of Texas at El Paso. He later received a fellowship at the University of Iowa, and in 1988, he received a Wallace E. Stegner Fellowship in poetry from Stanford University. In 1993 he returned to the border to teach in the Bilingual MFA program at the University of Texas at El Paso. His most recent book of poetry, Elegies in Blue, was published by Cinco Puntos Press in 2002. This is his first book for young adults.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Sáenz creates strong main and supporting characters long remembered after finishing the novel. Sammy’s voice was spot-on as a teen boy who grapples with the personal issues all teens do–friends, love, fears and hopes for the future–while also dealing with poverty, racism, and the Vietnam War era. Sáenz brilliantly mixes Spanish and English, local “neighborhood” issues with larger social issues like drug addiction and homophobia. While Sammy and Juliana are in love, as the book blurb states, this is not a traditional love story. Something tragic happens shortly into the novel that ends the love affair. I won’t spoil it, but the relationship was short-lived, and Sammy spends the rest of the novel dealing with this loss and many others. If you’re looking for something light-hearted with a happy ending, this one’s not for you. Sáenz left me feeling what it’s like to get pounded by life, as Sammy was and as many people are.
The novel, Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood is a tale about a young man in high school, named Sammy Santos, who lived in a suburb at the edge of a small New Mexico town. He falls in love with an autonomous and stunning girl named Juliana. The story starts off as what would seem like a typical Romeo and Juliet, but before the reader knows it the story takes a turn for the better and for the worse. In an unfortunate event Juliana and her family was shot and killed by father, in anger at his wife. Such cases of domestic violence in the small town were not uncommon. With this tragic event, the struggles of Sammy Santos began. He became a typical teenager, getting involved in the drinking and drugs which were of easy access and typical in his community. The teenagers in their town seemed to be confined and unable to expand and fulfill their dreams. The Latinos/Hispanics were not given opportunities to expand, and as a result the children seemed to have given up on their dreams at a younger age. At this period in time the Vietnam War was also going on. One of Sammy¿s close friends was drafted into the war, and that served as a turning point in his life. He had just lost his love and now one of his best friends. True, his friend was just going to war and could possibly come back safe, but everyone in his town knew that people who went into the Vietnam War usually never returned. They repeatedly talked about fighting against the system, instead of supporting it but they knew that their mouths would have been shut by the violence. Is this the democracy that America speaks so greatly of? America claims to be a country that is a democracy of egalitarianism and freedom, but where was the equality and liberty for the less fortunate in poverty? If people had a strike to get their opinion or message across they were silenced by violence. Sammy¿s friend was unfortunately sent into war and it made him realize that there was more to life. Sammy wanted to pursue an education by going to college after high school. The story told of Sammy¿s life may have been fiction but the novel is historically accurate as the challenges in his life that he faced with such as racism, violence, and poverty were very much real. Hispanics have had to deal with many instances of racism, which still continue in present day. The rifts between two different cultures of Americans and the Hispanics have caused violence throughout the country. People need to understand to just put differences aside and live as a community. After all we¿re all here and it¿s only best that we come together and make this country a better place. If everyone was given the right to speak and have their voice heard, then America would be a much better place. I would definitely recommend this book to a friend. This novel deserves 4 out of 5 stars. This book gives a great insight into the lives of Hispanics and the daily challenges they¿ve had to face. Hopefully by reading this book, the reader will be presented with a new perspective and a better understanding of the different cultures that reside in America.