Review: Us In Progress

“Her choice to flee the United States and spare her sons further repercussions, rather than tell her story, left me unsettled. I firmly believed this story needed to be told.” page viii

Us In Progress: Short Stories about Young Latinos by Lulu Delacre.
Harper, HarperCollins, New York, 2017.
Realistic fiction, 242 pages.
Lexile:  740L  .
AR Level: 5.0 (worth 5.0 points)  .

A collection of stories about young Latinos from various backgrounds.

Us In Progress cover
Us In Progress: Short Stories About Young Latinos by Lulu Delacre.

This is a unique collection in many ways.  One is that the author is also the illustrator.  Delacre’s Introduction is an important part of the book as it explains some of the nuances behind the artwork and writing, including the three layers used on each piece.

The stories themselves are also followed by three helpful sections.  Although Spanish is sprinkled throughout the book and I found the stories entirely readable without knowing the language, a story-by-story breakdown of the vocabulary can be found in the back of the book.  Refranes are also included as a subtitle to each story, and these are explained in the second section.

Finally at the end are Notes on the Stories.  Some stories were inspired by personal events told to the author, in which case the names and locations were changed.  Others were inspired by news stories, in which case they were set in the community where the articles were cited.  These three sections are not only helpful for the reader, they are invaluable for the classroom and provide a lot of extension ideas and supports for teachers.

Us In Progress The Attack resized
Each short story has at least one illustration. Some, like the first story The Attack, have two.  This one is from page xiv.

Many of the twelve short stories are written in the first person, and those that aren’t use a tight limited third person point of view.  Yet these intense tales easily transition from one to the next.  As is my custom for short story collections, I’ll discuss each story briefly.

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The Attack is the story of a family of Mexican immigrants who cannot afford older brother Tony’s epilepsy medication.  He has an attack while cutting up fruit, so Emilio calls 911 for help but his brother’s flailing accidentally injures a police officer and Tony is arrested in a traumatic scene which sends Emilio on a downward spiral even his twin cannot stop.  This story is not only moving, but also a significant example of intersectional disenfranchisement in literature for young people.

Marla’s mother is diabetic and Marla herself is showing signs of prediabetes in Selfie.  Bicycling is her idea of fun exercise, but obstacle after obstacle confront her.  Can Marla persevere in getting and riding a bike so she can change her prognosis?

Güera takes place on a New York subway ride.  Well-off Vicky loves her family and heritage yet feels out of place and often teased for her pale skin and light features.  While she considers who she is, an incident makes her realize just how much she does belong.

Burrito Man is another first person story, about Alex’s father from El Salvador, who insisted she follow him for take-your-daughter-to-work-day.  She wasn’t thrilled about spending the day outside at a burrito cart even before she saw the “Alex’s College Fund” coffee can and learned that his customers know her as the famous Alex who Papi works so hard for.  But she begins to see her father, and herself, differently.

Alina’s Florida birthday party will be perfect once her father arrives from work… except he gets deported instead.  With Papá and his successful business gone, Mami struggles to make ends meet.  In Band-Aid, Alina now cares for her younger siblings instead of attending private school and playing with friends, and Mami is considering transferring guardianship of her children to another woman so that they might stay in the US if she also gets deported.

Luci is the middle sister, and for most of her life that has meant putting up with Brigida’s mean comments, doing whatever her older sister says, and getting blamed for everything that could possibly upset her sister.  But now her little sister Ani is six and starting to notice the dynamic.  With her friend Karen’s help, can Luci finally stand up to her sister, the Firstborn?

Cubano Two is a short story mostly in dialogue between two eighth graders left alone in a media room in North Carolina.  One is a recent immigrant from Cuba, the other is a Cuban who has been raised in America by the aunt he adores.  At first they don’t seem to have much in common.

In Peacemaker, the New Orleans heat and the ongoing stress of navigating his parent’s constant fighting bring Wilfred to the boiling point.  He would just ignore it, but his sister Blanca needs a better life.  Wilfred’s maternal line is Nicaraguan; I couldn’t tell from the story if his father was also Nicaraguan or another Latino.  The feast of la Purísma on December 7th plays a role in this story.

Carla adores her older sister, but ever since their mother revealed that Esperanza wasn’t born in the US, things between them have changed.  Now it’s Carla’s turn to help her older sister, if only they can get what they need before Dream Relief Day in The Secret.

Pickup Soccer is written almost like a poem, or perhaps a hyperactive kid speaking, and concerns conflict between two groups both wanting to use the same field.

Us In Progress p16
Image is important to Marla in Selfie,

Sandra knows how important education is to her parents, so she doesn’t express her frustration about being signed up for Saturday School to study Spanish.  But when she learns it’s an Argentinian Spanish school where her Puerto Rican speech is mocked, will she have the courage to share the negative experiences with her mother?

Finally, 90,000 Children starts off surprisingly, with Frank who is proud of his father’s important job at the Border Patrol in Texas.  Frank hates the “illegals” who make his father too tired to take him to the shooting range.  His grandfather has always taught him that they are Spanish, better than those “indecitos ignorantes” but his history buff mother has a surprise for him – they are descended from a Mayan Indian woman.  That combined with an encounter with a K’iche speaking girl has Frank rethinking his opinions about those crossing the border.

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An excellent choice for book club discussions or high school classrooms.  Because the stories span narrators from pre-teens through eighteen-year olds, and the writing style tackles difficult topics without portraying gritty details of romance or other mature subjects, this is one of those very rare books that could be read by a fifth grade student, a teen, or even an adult.  The publisher’s information lists it as 8-12, although that skews young, I wouldn’t use this in a second grade classroom.  Because some of the subject matter can be rather sensitive, I wouldn’t generally suggest it for whole class use with younger grades, but it definitely has a place in the middle school library.

A few warnings include deportation, alcoholism, poverty, immigration, DACA (although not named as such), family separation, colorism, mention of drugs, attempted crime, disability, racial slurs, insults, and implied family violence.  And yet, these were handled deftly, most only alluded to, and all written in a manner appropriate for MG.

But the major sweet spot for this book will be for high-low reader collections.  The reading is technically easy while being high interest, and there are enough teens in the story to keep older students from feeling like it’s a little kid book, as long as you can mask that pesky 8-12 label on the cover.

This is one of the MG/YA books that I can honestly suggest to adults as well.  The few stories I didn’t love were still interesting and also short.  Like a stained glass window, this collection brings sharply different pieces together into a beautiful, cohesive whole.  Highly recommended.

Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

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