review: Bloodline

51p41UP4rNL._AC_US218_.jpgtitle: Bloodline
author: Joe Jiménez
date: Arté Publico Press; 2016
main character: Abraham


“A majority of the work is told in a second-person narrative before switching to first person at the shocking climax. While there is resolution, the startling and quick conclusion will most likely leave readers angry and upset.” School Library Journal

Jiménez explores shades of manhood and all it entails with a deft, poetic hand. —Kirkus Reviews

You know the drill: the book is about a rough Latino young man. Late teens. Disengaged from school. Broken home. Angst filled. Jiménez takes that stereotype, calls him Abram and stands him on his feet and polishes the edges.

Abram’s temper is out of control as indicated by the numerous fights and suspensions from school. His grandmother, Gertrudis, provides a stable, working-class home but she believes that Abram needs a father figure in his life. Her partner, Becky, doesn’t like the idea of inviting Gertrudis’ son, Abram’s uncle, to live with them any more than Abram does. They know what happened the last time and they’re afraid of what will happen this time. The second person narrative voice takes us deep inside Abram, establishing an intense emotional and intellectual depth that is rarely seen in relation to Latinx males in YA literature.

Jimenéz uses a rich array of metaphors to bring meaning to Abram’s world. While we are immersed in his tender relationship with Ophelia, it’s only late in the book that we realize how tender this relationship; how few people have any awareness of what’s really inside Abram and refuse to accept that Ophelia could like him. But we know because Jimenéz uses the relationship to reveal this side of Abram to us.

“So you hold the umbrella above your heads. You fear the ink will smear. You want nothing in the world to disturb her. Raindrops smack the soft pages, which are fragile and precious, and so you tip the red umbrella forward to shield Ophelia’s, letters, and this is how she reads, making sounds from the pen marks made on the other side of the world. She reads with you by her side, with the sky above her giving the world it’s smallest parts, with the taut read nylon deflecting rain and keeping things safe. Unfaltering, Ophelia walks, with her sunflower rain boots interrupting the flat gloss of the wide, imperfect sidewalk, the gloss that is water and chance and the reflection of the leafless trees, the grayest of mornings, her red, red, hair, paper.” (p42)

That red umbrella open to protect Ophelia. His heart, perhaps?

Abram is indeed a fighter, and Jiménez plans on this by using hands metaphorically. The metaphors of the hands change about this time Claudio arrives; as Abram relaxes into trusting his father’s brother. The trust isn’t always there however, because Uncle Claudio isn’t always there. He disappears for days at a time. He doesn’t finish what he starts. But, Abram believes there’s something there, perhaps because his grandmother does or perhaps just because he needs to. Perhaps, because in helping Abram find his physical strength and in telling him that he has a future as a boxer, Abram is able to believe in his uncle as much as himself.

“After you shower, after eating the two cans of tuna he bought you, after brushing your teeth minty fresh and deflating your gym back, you sit on the couch and wait, because his car is not in the driveway, and you don’t know where he’s gone, though you want him to come back. Funny, how that works, isn’t it? The television lights up the room with a soft fuzz. Already the muscles of you chest and arms have started their anguish. Not a scream, not yet. Not panic or yowling but soreness, enough of it to underscore that tomorrow is coming and there is more work to do.” (p. 33)

The unusual narrative voice speaks directly to Abram, exhibiting a close relationship between the author and his character. He foreshadows throughout the story, but as a reader, I didn’t want to pay attention any more that Abram wanted to. The voice does switch to first person at the end and I can’t consider why without completely spoiling the book. This is a book for ELA teachers looking for books that center Latino characters with themes of family, the American Dream and masculine identity.

In writing about the book on his website, Jiménez states “I don’t expect this novel to answer that question [Does a boy need a father to be a good man?] necessarily, but instead, and perhaps more necessarily, I needed the story of Abram to kindle questions in my readers, particularly young male readers, young male Latino readers. If you don’t have a father in your life, or if the only male figures in your life are torcidos, to whom do you turn to learn things you want to know?”

This novel most certainly leaves you asking questions!

Bloodline is Jiménez’s debut young adult novel. It has been named the Middle Grade/Young Adult Discovery Prize Winner in the 2016 Writers’ League of Texas Book Awards. Established in 1991, the awards recognize the year’s outstanding books published by Texas authors. Bloodline was named one of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2016, was a finalist for the Texas Institute of Letters’ 2016 H-E-B Award for Best Young Adult Book and was also included in NBC Latino’s Summer 2016 Reading List.