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March 28, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday: The Problem Is Brown and White

Kate Hart
~*~ Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic. ~*~

It seems appropriate that the best books I read during March Madness were sports-related. What's weird is that they were strikingly similar, yet nothing alike. In Matt de la Peña's Mexican WhiteBoy, two boys are forging a friendship over a sport; in Tim Tharp's Knights of the Hill Country, the main character is forging an identity separate from the one his teammate and best friend wants him to have.

sports book covers MWB follows Danny and Uno as they bond over baseball and trying to find their places between Latino, black, and white cultures. They're both somewhat estranged from their fathers-- Danny believes his has moved back to Mexico, and wants to fit in better with his paternal family as a way to draw his father home; Uno lives with his Mexican mother and fields weekly visits from his African-American father, whose life may or may not have been turned from crime to spirituality.

Knights follows Hampton, a lower-middle class white kid whose father is long gone. His mother's quick succession of boyfriends has meant little but annoyance, until she begins dating Tommy Don,* a former-football player whose return to Kennisaw has old rumors circulating again.

Both books are extremely heavy on dialect. It might be distracting for some readers, but I can read Spanish, and I'm fluent in Okie, so I fell right into both.

What distracted me personally was the biggest difference between these two books. It's not baseball vs football, or urban San Diego vs rural Oklahoma, or third person vs first.

It's the fact that Mexican WhiteBoy is being banned in Arizona. But the banning of Knights of the Hill Country is highly unlikely. 

(And this is the part where spoilers start, for those who haven't read these books.)

Debbie Reese has done an admirable job of following the shut down of Mexican-American Studies programs in Tucson, and I will link you to her chronological list of links rather than recap. I'm not interested in debating the ethics or legality of the school district's actions, though my opinion is probably pretty obvious in the following statement:

Knights will never get banned, because it's about white kids.

Never mind that in Knights, Hampton's eyes are opened to prejudice, racism, the dangers of letting kids have access to guns, and possibly even some liberal politics, while in WMB, the main characters find a way to succeed-- to do that "lifting themselves up by the bootstraps" that everyone is so fond of suggesting. Never mind that Hampton ultimately wants to work in forest conservation, whereas Danny looks to be a baseball superstar. Never mind that Danny and Uno are basically the model American dream of succeeding against all odds, whereas Hampton is questioning the status quo.

Doesn't matter. Mexican WhiteBoy. The problem's right there in the title.

I think it's pretty obvious where the real problem lies.


Head over to YA Highway and leave a link to your own Road Trip Wednesday post. It's a great way to make friends and learn about new titles.


* okay, this part was really, really weird for me. My maternal family centered around a small town in Oklahoma for the past sixty or so years. Tommy Don is a guy who moved to Santa Fe to be a painter, then moves back to care for his ailing father. I have a great uncle, Tommy Dale, who's a painter. That moved to Santa Fe. And came back to Oklahoma. To care for his ailing mother. Yeah.

Real Tom and fictional Tom are pretty different, personality-wise, and their reasons for being gossip about town are very different, but ... yeah. I had some personal issues imaging that character and they had nothing to do with Thorpe... unless he knows my family, which is entirely possible.


  1. You're the third person this week to recommend Matt de la Peña to me; I think that's a sign I should read Mexican Whiteboy ASAP.

  2. Interesting books. I can't help but agree with you, though, about the banning thing. Personally, as a book nerd and future English teacher, the very idea of banning any book makes me see red, but add to the fact that it's about race and it makes me mad and sad. Great post. Great issues. Great contrast.

  3. Both books sound interesting, and I normally am not attracted to sports books.

  4. Excellent post. You've made me want to read both books, especially because of your thoughts on why one is banned and the other never will be. Thanks for the recommendations and for an eye-opening post.


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