The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano. Scholastic, 2012. Currently Available.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Face Value: Powerful image that reflects the content and location of the story, and hints at one of the central metaphors in the book! Love! Says Evelyn, “There’s a Puerto Rican expression that says some people try to ‘tapar el cielo con la mano’ – to cover the sky with their hand.” People cover up what they don’t want to see. There’s a hand reaching up to the sky in this image, but the sun is shining through the fingers – a gorgeous symbol for Evelyn’s emotional journey. I like what happens with the text too – Revolution and Evolution are both key to the emotional core of the story, and the text suggests this without being too cheesy.
Does it Break the Slate? Totally. There are three generations of Slatebreaking women in this book, all of whom are making it happen in their own way. The political, activist, historical and family threads of this novel all come together for an undeniably feminist story.
Who would we give it to? This book would be a great pairing with Rita Williams Garcia’s amazing One Crazy Summer. Radicals making the world a better place and a young girl’s journey into self-awareness and racial and political advocacy.
Review: It’s 1969 in Spanish Harlem and Evelyn Serrano is determined to figure out who she is, and set herself apart from everyone else she knows – especially her mother. As she explains,
“Ever since my fourteenth birthday last month, I told everybody I wanted to be called Evelyn. My full name is Rosa Maria Evelyn del Carmen Serrano. But I shortened it. El Barrio, Spanish Harlem, USA, did not need another Rosa, Maria or Carmen.”
And so begins Evelyn’s quest to find herself. It gets even harder as her Abuela arrives, bringing with her a story of revolution in Puerto Rico and a new way of looking at the world. Then she encounters The Young Lords, an activist group that shakes up everything she thought she knew even more. Over the course of the book, Evelyn learns about her Latino history, her family history, and the kind of woman she’s going to be.
The greatest strength of this book, in my opinion, is the three generations of women coming together. Abuela is amazing, and she fascinates and energizes Evelyn, but she also has a complicated and difficult history with Evelyn’s mother. All three of these women are Slatebreakers in their own right, and they all love each other. Watching Mami and Abuela come to terms with one another, and watching Evelyn grow up into a woman who can understand, love and appreciate her whole family and its history is a really lovely journey. By the end, Evelyn has figured out that she doesn’t need to be Evelyn to be her own person. Rosa again, she is still an entirely changed, stronger girl.
Earlier I compared this book to One Crazy Summer, and I totally stand by that comparison. However, Evelyn Serrano is somewhat lacking compared to the richness of the way that world is crafted. This book almost gets there. The story, especially all of the history, feels condensed, and a little too easily brought to a resolution. However, the complexity of the characters and the relationships between the family members is totally worth it.
This book is a first novel by Sonia Manzano, who you are more likely to know for her role as Maria on Sesame Street. I loved her authors note, and learning about how her own history played into the way she wrote Evelyn’s story. An incredible role model already, I love that she’s started writing, and I look forward to seeing what she does next in the children’s literature world.
Reviewed from library copy.