Gr 5-9-A lively novel told through vignettes about growing up in Nuevo Pe-itas, TX. American-born Rey and his loving family maintain close ties with their Mexican relatives, who live "a stone's throw" away across the border, yet have very different opportunities. Rey's family, though poor, struggles and survives through their kind and honest efforts, religious beliefs, and hard work. Just entering adolescence, Rey yearns to be a man like his father, uncles, and older male cousins. The boys of the barrio play marbles and "king of the mountain," climb trees, and collect cigarette butts. The title comes from one of the boys' challenges: to jump from the upper branches of a mammoth mesquite to another without falling. Unfortunately, Rey is the youngest and his legs are short. Predictably, he falls, and he ends up with a broken wrist. The writing is engaging and accessible, with Spanish-language phrases and names smoothly integrated throughout. Loosely tied together, the chapters create a cohesive whole. Rey is an appealing protagonist who will speak to early adolescents. Salda-a draws extended family together and binds one boy's growth into manhood with real emotion and believable events.-Gail Richmond, San Diego Unified Schools, CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From a series of vivid vignettes of warmly remembered childhood experiences, Saldaña has fashioned a memorable first novel. Young Rey grows up in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, part of a loving family with strong ties across the border in Mexico, where there are frequent visits to grandparents, aunts, and uncles. For the most part, life is good, despite threatening poverty and occasional violence. Each chapter stands alone as a short story, but reading them in succession adds depth and resonance to each. During his middle-school years Rey struggles with what it means to grow up to be a man, an American, and a Chicano. He does well in school, unlike his friend Chuy, who ends up in jail. In "The Jumping Tree" chapter, Rey breaks his wrist by jumping from a huge mesquite tree in response to a dare from his cousins, then wears his cast as a badge of courage. Spanish words and phrases are sprinkled throughout, but most are understandable from the context. Saldaña's work is very much in the tradition of such groundbreaking achievements as Parrot in the Oven (1996) by Victor Martinez and The Circuit (1999) by Francisco Jimenez, although his world is not quite so harsh. The warmth of family ties, especially Rey's love and respect for his father, is strong, and there is reason to hope that Rey will succeed in creating a life for himself that bridges the two cultures to which he belongs. (Fiction 10-14)