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Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish: 10/26/18

Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish

Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya is set in the summer before Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. Marcus Vega is tall for his age and he's taken on the role of protector at school, putting himself between the bully and his victims. All that comes to a head when the bully goes to far and Marcus breaks his nose.

Marcus was defending his younger brother's honor. The younger brother, Charlie has Down's Syndrome. He is otherwise a delightful boy who loves Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and has a Willy Wonka hat. But to bully (a rich white kid as bullies often are) he's an easy target.

Marcus and Charlie's mother who works long hours at the airport decides what she and her boys need more than anything is time away from home and a chance to reconnect with family. Although their dad isn't in the picture, he has family in Puerto Rico and it's them that they visit.

Marcus, ever hopeful, sees the trip as a chance to reconnect with his father. Most of the trip is spent trying to track him down, to get the adults in his family to talk about him. It doesn't go well but he does eventually get the answers he needs, even if they aren't the ones he wants.

Meanwhile, Marcus is documenting his journey with a borrowed camera, loaned to him by a friend at school. It is really through his photography that he is able to meditate on his situation and re-contextualize it.

As it happens this middle grade novel fits into the road narrative spectrum project. It's a 336666: family, home, offroad. The trip to Puerto Rico allows the Vegas to reconnect with extended family and as a core family unit. As Marcus was born in Puerto Rico, it is a chance to return to his original home and learn about his roots, even though he doesn't speak Spanish. Finally, as main journey is via an airplane (coming and going), it's an offroad journey.

Five stars

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