I am so completely in love with The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez. Pérez takes a typical middle school plot - new girl, new school, where does she fit in and can she survive the mean girls, and gives it layer upon layer or depth, detail and rich storytelling, character development and perfect pace, making it an unforgettable novel that I hope will be read by millions of kids. Be sure to visit Celia's website where she shares her Inspiration Board and Playlist created while writing this book!
María Luisa O'Neill-Morales, or, as she prefers, Malú, thinks she is one thing and one thing only - punk. She loves being with her dad (her parents are divorced) at his record store, listening to punk bands, skateboarding and making zines, "self-published booklets, like homemade magazines, and they can be about anything - not just punk." But, Malú is also the daughter of Professor Magaly Morales, or, as Malú calls her, SuperMexican. Malú, who prefers not to speak Spanish, is a vegetarian who can't stand cilantro and feels like she is never Mexican enough for her mom, who is always asking her to dress more like a señorita. The First Rule of Punk begins on the night before Malú and her mom move from Florida to Chicago, where her mother has a new teaching job at a university, despite Malú's most recent zine with the title, "There's No Place Like Home."
Malú finds her punk people in Chicago when she discovers Calaca Coffee, just down the street from her apartment. There is a display case of Mexican breads and sweet treats, and the walls are decorated with colorful skulls, dancing skeletons and marigolds and a wall of album covers that, along with punky 80s bands, also include Mexican singers with, "big mustaches and even bigger hats." Malú quickly befriends Mrs. Hidalgo, the tattooed owner of Calaca with a pink stripe in her hair, and her son, Joe, who is in the same grade as Malú at José Guadalupe Posada Middle School. Malú is called a coconut (brown on the outside, white on the inside) by Selena, the mean girl at school, for dressing punk and not speaking Spanish. But, Malú keeps making her zines and, with the help of Mrs. Hidalgo, discovers that there are Mexican punk bands. She also learns about the art and politics of the namesake of her school. With the help of Mrs. Hidalgo and Joe, Malú and new friends Ellie and Benny form a punk band (the Co-Cos, owning the name coconut) and audition for the Fall Fiesta Talent Show. When they are denied a spot in the show for being too loud and not being an act, "Posada might enjoy if he was alive," Malú plans an alternative fall fiesta and learns to sing a popular Mexican song in Spanish, that the Co-Co's play at a punk pace.
Woven in with these story threads are Malú's relationship with her mother and the strain of feeling like she is constantly disappointing her, the sadness of missing her father, challenges with her friends and enemies, and the discovery, on her own and not guided by her mother, of her Mexican culture. Near the triumphant and joyful (have to admit, I cried a little) end of The First Rule of Punk, Mrs. Hidalgo shares a metaphor with Malú to help her make sense of the many elements and influences, cultures and traditions in her life saying,
I like to think of us as more like patchwork quilts. Some pieces are prettier than others. Some pieces match and some don't. But if you remove a square, you're just left with an incomplete quilt, and who wants that? All our pieces are equally important if they make us whole. Even the weird ones.
By the end of the novel, Malú has the insight to say, I "discovered that maybe the first rule of punk was to make your own rules."
I love the quilt metaphor and the courage and confidence Malú expresses when she realizes she can make her own rules. While I don't have the same background as Malú, there were so many parts of The First Rule of Punk that spoke to me. I did disappoint my mother endlessly with my fashion choices in middle school and I understand deeply the feeling of wanting to find myself and be myself while also connecting with and making my parents happy. And I also liked punk music and got Blondie's album Parallel Lines for my eleventh birthday in 1979. Now, as a librarian at a school where 83% of my student body are Hispanic or Latino (words used by our district and the state to describe this population) I am learning so much about Mexican culture, the food especially, thanks to my students and their parents, this is a new, beautiful square to the quilt that is me.
Source: Review Copy