Rose’s strong debut explores the challenging lives of undocumented Mexican immigrants whose children are U.S. citizens. Jacinta, almost 12, and her two sisters were born in America; the family ekes out a living in Colorado, in constant fear of her parents’ deportation. When a local television anchorwoman comes into her life, Jacinta—whose mother is caring for her own dying mother in Mexico—longs for her to become her mentor in the community center’s Amiga program; she is unprepared for the cultural issues and conflicting emotions that arise when her wish is granted. Rose convincingly depicts Jacinta’s struggles as she explores aspects of upper-middle-class culture—French and gymnastics lessons, theater and ballet performances—while coping with the instability and grimness of barrio life and desperately missing her mother. The well-meaning anchorwoman has her own flaws, which make her a fully dimensional, credible character. A moving portrayal of a girl’s effort to embrace both her Mexican roots and the possibilities of American life, as well as an affecting look at an important contemporary issue. Ages 10–up. Agent: Sean McCarthy, Sean McCarthy Literary Agency. (Sept.)
Rose presents characters in crisis, whose stories are personal, rather than broadly representative, and the book is better for it. Ultimately, this is a story about code switching, and about the different skill sets and assumptions required for complex cross-cultural and cross-class situations. An interesting first novel that treats its complex characters with unusual dignity.
—School Library Journal
Rose convincingly depicts Jacinta’s struggles as she explores aspects of upper-middle-class culture—French and gymnastics lessons, theater and ballet performances—while coping with the instability and grimness of barrio life and desperately missing her mother...A moving portrayal of a girl’s effort to embrace both her Mexican roots and the possibilities of American life, as well as an affecting look at an important contemporary issue.
This smart debut is a poignant exploration of cultural variations and family ties through the eyes of a lovable and funny narrator. Timely in its look at the plight of undocumented immigrants and their American-born children, it is a story of empowerment against the shadows of life in the barrio.
Jacinta’s story gives readers insight into the world of immigrant families and their difficult lives: the fear of discovery, the poverty, distrust of anyone who is not Mexican.
I loved "Look Both Ways in the Barrio Blanco" for its passionate story telling and unflagging integrity. I kept on turning the page thinking there's no way the author can sustain the tension and feeling without resorting to cliches and sentimentality, but somehow she does.
A valiant effort that wrestles with important, complex themes.
Gr 4–7—Jacinta may not know much about the world outside the barrio, but she knows how to grab a chance with both hands and make it work for her. When a well-known news anchorwoman comes to report on her youth center, Jacinta uses a combination of luck, cunning, and raw emotion to guilt "Miss" into becoming her amiga and mentor. As she and and Miss get closer and come to know each other's families over the next year, they frustrate and learn from one another, and ultimately precipitate a crisis in Jacinta's already fraught life. Miss is also far from perfect, and she struggles openly with professional, personal, and financial issues, but Jacinta's dangers tend to be more immediate—her parents are both undocumented, and her family faces eviction, deportation, and the violence and uncertainty of re-entry. The story is narrated from Jacinta's point of view after the fact, with both additional exposition and regretful foreshadowing. This allows the author a greater range of perspective, but makes Jacinta's experiences less immediate, more told than shown. The plotting is rough and choppy but the characters burn through the page. Jacinta with her fierce neediness, Miss with her irritability, fear, condescension/confusion, and basic decency. It's as pleasurable to watch these characters take one another by surprise as it is horribly anxiety-producing to see them hurt, stumble, insult, and misunderstand nearly every situation requiring contextual awareness. Rose doesn't sugarcoat the hypocrisies and tough realities of the relationship, and of the very real reasons that they mistrust one another. Nearly everyone in the book makes some some pretty serious and unforgivable mistakes, but as flawed humans they are allowed to wear their flaws, to make mature decisions and stupid childish ones. Rather than writing an "issue book," Rose presents characters in crisis, whose stories are personal, rather than broadly representative, and the book is better for it. Ultimately, this is a story about code switching, and about the different skill sets and assumptions required for complex cross-cultural and cross-class situations. VERDICT An interesting first novel that treats its complex characters with unusual dignity.—Katya Schapiro, Brooklyn Public Library
A preteen Mexican-American girl gains a locally famous white woman as her mentor—but feels like she's losing her identity. Jacinta Juárez is struggling with the absence of her mother when she meets newscaster Kathryn Dawson Dahl, whom Jacinta calls "Miss," and decides the journalist will be her mentor no matter what. Jacinta has no qualms manipulating the people and situations around her to reach her goal, making her a difficult protagonist to sympathize with. While Jacinta and Miss' relationship is anything but sweet, Miss offers an escape from stifling responsibilities and new experiences: Jacinta takes gymnastics lessons, French class, and attends the ballet. But as the once-naïve Jacinta's world expands, so does her confusion about where she belongs. When her undocumented parents are threatened, Jacinta looks to Miss for help but finds her new experiences have given her new confidence to face challenges. Sometimes Jacinta's ignorance makes sense given her situation, but at other times it feels forced. More distressing, however, are statements like, "I realized power doesn't come from your job or the color of your skin. Real power comes from inside. It's not something that someone can give you. And it's not something that anyone can take away," which paint a positive veneer on difficult, complex issues without simple fixes. Still, a valiant effort that wrestles with important, complex themes. (Fiction. 10-14)
Marisol Ramirez’s narration reflects the many facets of middle schooler Jacinta Juarez’s character, letting listeners hear her neediness and immaturity while also letting her intelligence and strength shine through. Ramirez moves beautifully between English and Spanish and various levels of accents to reflect characters’ backgrounds. When a news anchor takes an interest in Jacinta, she finds herself straddling her community of undocumented immigrants and the world of privilege the journalist exposes her to. Ramirez keeps listeners on Jacinta’s side, even when some of her selfish decisions lead to serious consequences for her family. Emotionally complicated and sensitive, Jacinta’s story gives voice to the types of struggles undocumented immigrants and their families face in the United States. A.F. © AudioFile 2016, Portland, Maine