The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano

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Title:The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano
Author: Sonia Manzano
Genre: Middle grade, historical
Topics: Coming of age, mother-daughter relations, social activism
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publishing Year: 2014
Pages: 224 pages
Format Read: Paperback
My Rating: 4.5/5

Summary (From Goodreads): One of America's most influential Hispanics -- 'Maria' on Sesame Street -- presents a powerful novel set in New York's El Barrio in 1969.

There are two secrets Evelyn Serrano is keeping from her Mami and Papi? her true feelings about growing up in her Spanish Harlem neighborhood, and her attitude about Abuela, her sassy grandmother who's come from Puerto Rico to live with them. Then, like an urgent ticking clock, events erupt that change everything. The Young Lords, a Puerto Rican activist group, dump garbage in the street and set it on fire, igniting a powerful protest. When Abuela steps in to take charge, Evelyn is thrust into the action. Tempers flare, loyalties are tested. Through it all, Evelyn learns important truths about her Latino heritage and the history makers who shaped a nation. Infused with actual news accounts from the time period, Sonia Manzano has crafted a gripping work of fiction based on her own life growing up during a fiery, unforgettable time in America, when young Latinos took control of their destinies.


Review: The short version: I loved this book so much! The long version: This is the kind of book that I would have loved to read in middle school. It is the type of books that explores large topics and teaches history through the eyes and story of its young protagonist Evelyn, a Boricua girl living in East Harlem in 1969. There are several things that I love about this book in particular, the first is the sense of location. Manzano has absolutely nailed the descriptions of 1960’s East Harlem and it is a joy to read and be absorbed in Evelyn’s world. I have never been a Boricua girl, lived in East Harlem nor was I alive in the 60’s but Manzano puts you right alongside her protagonist on the streets of New York with her attention to detail on everything from the fashion to pop culture and of course contemporary new events.Manzano even gives a shout out to Sesame Street, the show that made Manzano a household name.

The second is the character development of Evelyn herself. On the book cover the letter R in revolution is a different color from the rest of the word, calling attention to both the external ‘revolution’ -the protests by the Young Lords which ignite Evelyn’s political awareness and the internal evolution of Evelyn herself and how her relationships with herself, her neighborhood, with her family and her Puerto Rican identity change over the book. Evelyn starts out as quite a negative character, she is bratty to her mother whom she finds to be unbearably submissive and tacky and is quite dismissive of others like her friend and her coworker. Then in steps her Abuela with her outrageous fashion (think mini skirts gogo boots and orange hair) and revolutionary ideas of ‘standing up for the little guy against the big guy’. The Abuela quickly becomes a fascination for Evelyn and proceeds to teach her about her family history and how it is tied to Puerto Rico’s history. 

Lastly, I love the balance that the book strikes. The book is both unapologetic in it’s political passion, mainly through the character of the Abuela (who I love and aspire to be one day minus the drawn in eyebrows) but balanced. The narrative doesn’t shy away from topics like police brutality and national identity but they are not covered in a pedantic or condescending way which can be a pitfall for many book aimed at younger audiences. Instead we are offered a humanizing and nuanced  view of these difficult subjects. It is a truly spectacular book to give to a young reader.