Mexican Whiteboy by Matt de la Peña (2008)
Teen Fiction | Contemporary
“Danny’s tall and skinny. Even though he’s not built, his arms are long enough to give his pitch a power so fierce any college scout would sign him on the spot. Ninety-five mile an hour fastball, but the boy’s not even on a team. Every time he gets up on the mound he loses it.
But at his private school, they don’t expect much else from him. Danny’ s brown. Half-Mexican brown. And growing up in San Diego that close to the border means everyone else knows exactly who he is before he even opens his mouth. Before they find out he can’t speak Spanish, and before they realize his mom has blond hair and blue eyes, they’ve got him pegged. But it works the other way too. And Danny’s convinced it’s his whiteness that sent his father back to Mexico.
That’s why he’s spending the summer with his dad’s family. Only, to find himself, he may just have to face the demons he refuses to see–the demons that are right in front of his face. And open up to a friendship he never saw coming.
Set in the alleys and on the ball fields of San Diego County, Mexican Whiteboy is a story of friendship, acceptance, and the struggle to find your identity in a world of definitions.”
pooled ink Review:
What drew me to this book was the title, pure and simple. It describes my brother and if you swap out “boy” for “girl” then it describes me. As a half-blood I was curious to know what viewpoint this story would describe. I found some similarities with Danny and myself such as when everyone’s laughing and you laugh along even though you don’t understand the joke because it was in Spanish, feeling like an outsider amongst a group of purebloods who are all so familiar and tight-knit, being held in a special regard by the grandparents because you’re different (in a good way). But unlike Danny I never resented either half of my ethnicity. I think it’s wildly cool that I’m a blend of cultures and I’m proud of each piece while Danny wishes he were full Mexican living in the same neighborhood as his relatives and forget about his white mom, his white school, his white life.
As you read the book you’ll quickly understand that there is some mysterious tension surrounding the deal with Danny’s absent father. He leaves his family and instead of turning his anger towards the parent that ditched he grows resentful of the parent who stayed. It annoyed me honestly. I suppose a teenage boy might not get it or maybe teenage boys all have some weird hero-worship thing for their dad, but you should be suspicious of the parent who leaves and thankful that the mom you have left loves you with her whole heart (I mean she has some things to sort out too but still). When Javier left it didn’t just affect you, Danny, but it threw your poor mom into a depression so maybe cut the white-hating attitude and step up, yeah?
But basically this book spans the length of summer when Danny’s mom and sister go to San Francisco while Danny opts to go stay with his cousin, Sofia. His dad left and he doesn’t understand why, he’s a smart kid who got a scholarship for a fancy school but he’s biracial and fits in neither there amongst the white kids nor on the streets with the Mexican kids so he feels lost in his identity. Danny is going through some stuff and he’s suffering in confusion but the one thing he does understand is baseball. When it comes to baseball he could go all the way. Easily. He’s just that good and he loves it.
Look, I get what this book was trying to address with the biracial stuff and I think it did an okay job sometimes but it could’ve been done a lot better. It seemed to do a louder job of sharing his prejudices and resentments and often unfounded assumptions/perceptions than sharing any sort of revelation or maturity at the end. I mean it ends with you feeling like maybe things will be alright for Danny now but I just wish we got a bit more, ya know?
Maybe I’m weird or don’t speak “guy” or live in a magical bubble but I’ve never really felt out of place other than the occasional language barrier. I never thought it was weird that I was the only kid bringing tacos for lunch at school or that my mom spoke with an accent or that we played Spanish music in the house. I’m not sure why but it never seemed odd to me and so it never bothered me (except on Saturday mornings because when she blasted Spanish music in the A.M. you knew it was a house cleaning day and I’d be scrubbing toilets haha). No one treated me differently or if they did I guess I didn’t notice for which I’m glad. I wish I was fluent in Spanish but other than that I wouldn’t change my mixed heritage. I’ve been the minority before, like an obvious minority, but never really felt out of place because, I dunno, I guess I get along with people easily? I get social anxiety to be certain but it never has to do with people being a different color or ethnicity than me. People are nice and I never understood what skin color has to do with it.
But I also have two good parents that care. Danny has…a complicated situation that he doesn’t understand. But why his dad disappearing makes him want to be more like him and want nothing to do with his mom just confuses the hell out of me. I don’t get it. I’m not a psychologist though so…whatever lol. Anyway, back to baseball…
The baseball scenes were always exciting to read even if it was just Danny practicing by himself. It had me missing my childhood where I’d often be hanging out at baseball or T-ball games and devouring ICEEs with one of those straws that ends like a flimsy spoon! Definitely one of my favorite parts, I was always on the edge of my seat rooting for Danny! And baseball becomes an important element in many ways. It’s how Danny tries to make his dad proud, it bonds him to a boy named Uno, it gives him an identity and a future, it helps him heal.
The book actually alternates between the POVs of Danny (the Mexican white boy) and Uno (the Mexican black boy). We see their different lives and the different paths they take unexpectedly intersecting this one summer over their need for cash and their love for baseball. Their friendship was my other favorite thing in this book. Baseball and friendship, that’s what this book did well. The biracial identity crisis? Not so much in my opinion but at least it tried.
This was a short read but overall I really enjoyed it. It’s fun and deep and it goes by so quick. I wish there was a far better resolution or path towards resolution (or really any sort of resolution) to Danny’s biracial identity crisis at the end seeing as that’s the title of the book and one of the main points but other than that I’d really recommend it.
Mexican Whiteboy is a gripping story about finding oneself, baseball, and friendship. Moments will make you laugh, make your heart ache, make you sit on the edge of your seat your eyes glued to that fastball, and make you stop and think as it delves into themes deeper than you might’ve been prepared to go. Captivating and emotional it opens the door to a conversation so many of us secretly wrestle with but hardly anyone ever considers.
P.S. If you haven’t watched The Sandlot (1993) then shame on you and go make a s’more and watch it now haha What is your childhood without it?? #classic
Purchase Here: Mexican Whiteboy
Similar Reads: A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Meet Matt de la Peña!
Matt de la Peña is the New York Times best-selling, Newbery-medal-winning author of six young adult novels and four picture books. Matt received his MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University and his BA from the University of the Pacific, where he attended school on a full athletic scholarship for basketball. de la Peña currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. He teaches creative writing and visits high schools and colleges throughout the country.