Friday, October 15, 2010

Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood

Today marks the last day of Hispanic Heritage Month. So I figured I should post a review to kickstart HHM for the rest of the 335 days of the year (I think that math is right????) We have recommended this book before but now I detail why exactly you should read it.

Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Saenz 2004

IQ "'Sometimes dreams come true, don't they Sammy?' [Elena]
I wanted to tell Elena that the bad ones. They're the ones that come true. [Sammy]
But I just said 'Yeah, sometimes dreams come true.'" pg. 213

Sammy Santos does not enjoy living in Hollywood in the 1970s. Hollywood, New Mexico, a small town where the majority of people who live there are Mexican or Mexican American and looked down upon. His mother died of cancer and he takes care of his younger sister (Elena), and at times, his father. Sammy dreams of going to college, so he works hard in school and takes on various jobs. The summer before his senior year, Sammy falls in love with gorgeous, vulnerable, aloof Juliana. But what would a love story be without some tragedy? Sammy introduces us to his family, Juliana, his friends and their stories of love and loss, suffering and triumph.

This was a re-read for me and I don't remember much about it. Which is mind-boggling because upon re-reading it, I absolutely LOVED it. I remember that I really liked it and I remember being relatively young when I read it. I bought it somewhere that was selling it for a bargain price ($4) when I was in 5th or 6th grade, and there are two things I vividly remember from the book. I remember that it was the first book I read that had so many Spanish words. I learned many curse and slang words and I'm oddly appreciative of that. I also recall it being one of the first books I ever read to candidly discuss homosexuality (I also learned about the awful slur "queer"). Upon re-reading this book I think both of those points are important. There is no glossary in this book, no italics to show that it is a Spanish word. The reader must figure that out from themselves and use the context in order to translate it. I encourage readers to not just skip over the Spanish words, but to learn them (especially if you are pretty good at Spanish, you need to know the slang too, not just the formal talk. My friends who speak Spanish laugh at Spanish students "proper" Spanish). As for the look at how gay people were treated, I don't think many current students know how bad homosexuals had it in the '60s and '70s, even though that was supposed to be a "liberating and accepting" time. Sammy says it best concerning what love is deemed acceptable "It's funny, everyone had always told us love was another word for belonging. No one, no one had ever told me that love was another name for exile." (pg. 212) I wish it was funny because it was untrue, but it's not funny, and it's true.

The nice thing about re-reading is you find new things to appreciate. I was enthralled by how Sammy described people. I wanted to meet him just to hear how he would describe me. When talking about Juliana he says, "Sometimes, she could look at you and you could see what she was trying to tell you don't screw with me because I've been through things, and you don't know a damn thing about what it's cost me to be here, right here, right here on this worthless piece of ground, so don't treat me like I'm some crack on a sidewalk because if you step on me, you'll never take another step without thinking of me. I swear to God you won't." (pg. 13) He's very observant and has a sort of "old soul". He's well liked, but quiet, not a big fan of parties. However he does attend some parties and he's not really socially awkward. It was nice to read a book about a guy who's not a nerd (I know that sounds mean, but do you get what I'm saying?). I also love Juliana for that above quote but she frustrated me a bit. The title is sort of misleading because Sammy & Juliana's relationship is not the main focus of the story. However it does serve as the backdrop to everything that Sammy does.

Sammy and Juliana In Hollywood is an aching story that is apologetically depressing. I didn't remember it being so maddeningly sad. I'll tell you right now, this book is really about the little things making people happy. It's about leaving home, moving on from everything and anything and appreciating those little joys that are few and far between. This novel covers so much both historically and personally. The Chicano movement is on the rise, people are protesting the Vietnam war, violence against homosexuals, racism against all Brown people, class issues, ageism, students not being free to speak their mind. It's a lot to handle but Sammy has a lot to handle in his own life and this book mirrors his internal turmoil as well as the external. Sammy grows in leaps and bounds and it's the very definition of a rewarding experience to read about. There is so much more I want to say about this novel, but this review is already pretty lengthy. Zetta says it far better than I ever could. All I have to say is READ THIS BOOK.

Disclosure: Con mi dinero

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