After being outed as gay by her best friend, Yamilet, transfers from public school to the mostly white Slayton Catholic High School, as one of only a few Mexican kids. She is going to keep her gay identity to herself, even from her younger brainy brother, Cesar, who is in the same year (at the same school) because he’d skipped a year way back. Yamilet is going to keep her gayness from her mother who would definitely throw her out of the house if she knew. Her dad has been deported back to Mexico, but they video chat regularly. She’s always been closest to him and certainly he’ll understand.
At her new school she is befriended by Bo, who is Asian, openly gay, and really cute, but Yami is certainly not going to make the same mistake twice. Yami’s main job at school is to keep her brilliant but hot-tempered brother from getting into fights.
The chapter headings align with Catholic commandments but are cutely irreverent, like “Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Butt,” or “Honor Thy Liner and Thy Hoops.” Because Yami wears heavy makeup and loves her gold earrings which make her white contemporaries fault her for looking way too Latinx. The white kids are pretty catty.
Another chapter is “Make Unto Thee Non-Racist Friends,” which she does, thank heavens. Now she has a small but strong circle of friends. This, of course, helps. Cesar is doing well which is detailed in “Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Brother’s Life.” Love that title. The next chapter shows that maybe Cesar’s life isn’t as good as all that. But it brings us to “Thou Shalt Procure a Pseudo Suitor,” which she does. Yami discovers her brother kissing another boy. Wow! Cesar is gay, but still Yami doesn’t come out to him. However, she does avert disaster within the family by claiming that Cesar’s boyfriend, Jamal, is her boyfriend. So now she must carry on with this falsehood to keep Cesar safe from both Mami and at school. Life is getting more complicated.
One difficult evening, Yami, while speaking to her dad on FaceTime comes out to him. He cuts off the call. Is there a technological issue? What’s happening? Was she wrong to trust him?
Mami and Cesar travel to Mexico at Christmas to visit Papi. Yami, who hasn’t spoken to her father since he cut her off, still hasn’t come out to Mami or Cesar. She stays with Bo, who she’s kind of crushing on. But Yami surely won’t come out to her. She’ll never self-sabotage again which caused such huge crisis and pain at her old school.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking the subject matter doesn’t apply to you. Or that this book won’t be of interest to you. It’s a wonderful read. And if you do identify with the concept in any way, rush out and get this book. You won’t be disappointed. Afterall, the National Book Award committee longlisted it for the award.
Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of the award-winning books: Lift As You Climb; Josephine; Loving vs Virginia; and Struttin’ With Some Barbecue all signed and for sale at Jane Addams bookstore. Her forthcoming books are about women’s suffrage, Martha Graham, and Ella Fitzgerald. talesforallages.com