Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Pena

Summary: Danny is a very introverted, introspective teenager. He feels guilt and rage because of his father leaving his family, and being half-Mexican and half-white has led Danny to experience a life-long identity crisis. Because of all of this, his mother decides to send him to his father’s side of the family for the summer in order to get to know himself better. He finds himself thrust into his cousin’s, Sofia’s, life, but it isn’t all bad. Sofia’s friends love to play baseball, Danny’s favorite sport, and it is through this sport that Danny forms genuine friendships, is able to look towards his future, and manages to grapple with his difficult emotions.

Review: I did not know this would be a sports book. I do not like sports books. I do not connect with sports books. I do not find sports books interesting. Well… that’s what I thought, anyways. I did like this book. I did connect with it. I did find it interesting. I was (happily) proven wrong. I really enjoyed this story centered around baseball! Baseball really was the common denominator throughout all of the subplots. It tied Danny to his friends, it tied him to his family, and it tied him to his future. It was a central part of the story, but it wasn’t the only part of the story. Danny and Uno went around their county, finding opponents to hustle. Surprisingly (to me), I found myself getting VERY into their games. I was on the edge of my seat, anxious and filled with anticipation about what would happen… and trust me when I say I never would’ve expected that from myself and a sports book! I think the reason I was able to get so invested in their games was because the games were about more than just their games. There was more at stake for the boys, and they were playing these random pick-up games for a greater purpose (helping Danny improve for school). This kept me rooting for Danny and feeling invested in the outcomes of their games more than I (theoretically) would have been if it were just for some tournament. 

Now I need to dedicate some time to discussing these two protagonists. Danny and Uno. Ugh. I simply LOVED them. These two characters were really the only characters that mattered in the whole story. Yes, there were loads of secondary characters, but the majority of them just blended together. Most of them had no discernible characteristics that helped to keep them separate, but that didn’t really bother me a ton because there was no real need to know the other characters. They were really there in a supporting capacity and helped to nurture the friendship between Danny and Uno and helped Danny on his journey of self-discovery. 

Anyways, back to Danny and Uno. Danny was so perfectly relatable for me. He was going through some serious mental health issues that really resonated with me and reminded me of my teenage years, and I just connected to him so much. There were so many points in the story when I just desperately wanted to reach through the pages and hug him and tell him everything would be okay. His poor, pure broken heart needed fixing, and I wanted to help!! De la Pena crafted such an excellent, believable trouble protagonist, and my heart truly went out for him in every chapter of this story. Then there’s Uno. A great kid with a shitty hand dealt to him. He was so kind and genuine and really was trying hard to be a good human. Sure, he had some rough moments (i.e. punching Danny in the face), but at his core, he was a genuinely good human being. I couldn’t help myself from rooting for him and hoping that he would, somehow, rise up and overcome the obstacles life unjustly put in his way.

On a more personal note, I really kept waiting for Danny and Uno to be gay. Maybe it’s because I’m gay, or maybe it’s because every author is now including the token LGBTQ+ character for diversity, or maybe it’s because of the seemingly unrelenting sexual tension that persisted between the boys… but I was left a bit disappointed. NOT EVEN A KISS!!! I was hoping for at least something as small as a kiss. Even an admission of feelings or attraction would’ve suited me! But it’s okay. Honestly, it’s probably better that they weren’t gay! By having them be simply great friends, de la Pena was able to highlight the purity and realness of their friendship. I really do love the emphasis he put on the importance of platonic male relationships. These two young men were able to talk about and express their feelings with one another openly and honestly, and they both grew and became better as a result. 10/10 for his portrayal of healthy male friendships!

Just a few more quick notes.

  1. I really appreciated the mystery behind the location of Danny’s father. A large portion of the novel was spent on this subplot, and it really helped maintain my interest so I could find out where he was and why he left.
  2. I loved the fact that de la Pena incorporated mental health issues (depression and self-harm) in a teenage male protagonist. Oftentimes in YA, these issues are focused on with female protagonists, which on its own can be detrimental to young male readers. There are so many young men in the world suffering silently with these problems, and to be able to see themselves and see that it gets better in a story like this is so valuable.
  3. There was a lot of mature content. A LOT! And I really do wish some of it had been toned down a bit. Now I’m not trying to censor anything, but there were some points were I had serious internal debate about the appropriateness of this novel for my middle schoolers because of the nature of the content (a lot of cussing, sex scenes, etc.). 

Rating: 4 out of 5

Recommended reader: Anyone who likes:

  • Realistic Fiction
  • Baseball
  • Hispanic characters
  • Mental health
  • Stories about friendship
  • Male friendships
  • Stories about family
  • Elements of mystery
  • Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Discussion Questions:

  • Why did no one tell Danny the truth about his father? What were they concerned about? Should Danny have been told?
  • Why does Danny choose to be silent? What impact does this have on his life? Why does he also choose to harm himself by digging his nails into his arm? What is he attempting to do by doing this?
  • How does Danny feel about his father? Why does he choose to lie in his letters to his dad? How do his feelings about his dad impact other aspects of his life? How does their relationship compare to that between Uno and Senior?
  • Why is baseball so important to Uno and Danny? What does it symbolize to each of them?
  • Even though Danny is half-Mexican, he is also half-white. This grants him some white privilege in his life — being given opportunities that he wouldn’t have if he were full Mexican. How does white privilege show up in his life? What opportunities is he given that he wouldn’t have elsewise? How is his life different because he lives with his white mom?
  • What pushes Danny to practice hours a day at baseball, striving to be the best he can be? Why does he choke on the pitching mound? Why is it so important for him to show the team at his private school how good he is?
  • How does Danny feel about being half-white and half-Mexican? How does this affect his view on his life? How does it impact his choices and his self-identity?
  • How does Uno see himself compared to Danny? What incidents happen in the story that prove this view?

Specifics of the book:

  • Genre: Realistic Fiction
  • Accelerated Reader Level: 4.3 (9)
  • Content Level: 8th
  • Pages: 247
  • Controversial Issues: Violence; Cussing; Mild sexual content; Underage drinking

2 thoughts on “Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Pena

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s