review: Boys of the Beast

Title: Boys of the Beast
Author: Monica Zepeda
Date: Tu Books; 2022
Main characters: Matt; Ethan; Oscar
YA Latine/x realistic fiction

Monica Zepeda is a Mexican American author and winner of the Tu Books/Lee and Low New Visions Award. She works as a teen services library in Los Angeles County, and she’s also a screenwriter. With her debut novel, The Boys of the Beast, she brings something refreshing to YA.

The Beast is the 1988 burgundy Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe that belonged to Grandma Lupe, who just passed away. The boys, Matt, Ethan, and Oscar are all her grandsons who barely know each other. Yes, indeed this is a road trip story! The boys load up their baggage (and they have a lot of internal baggage) to drive the Thunderbird that now belongs to Matt from Portand, where they’ve gathered for the funeral, to Matt’s home in Santa Fe.

I enjoyed a lot about this book. From a practical perspective, I liked that the front jacket flap had a description of each of the boys because that helped me distinguish between them early in the book.

Matt. Evangelical Christian. Earnest. Film nerd. Carrying a dream to make movies–despite the future his father has planned for him.

Ethan. Jewish. Gay. Sci-fi nerd. Carrying a phone that contains his entire relationship with Levi–unless they finally get to meet IRL on this trip.

Oscar. Stoner. Smartass. Too cool to be a nerd. Carrying a letter that haunts him–no matter how hard he tries to escape it.

I liked the humorous tone of the story and the easy-going nature of the boys’ relationships. A book with characters who actually cared for each other made for an enjoyable reading experience. Here, in this story,most the conflicts were internal, and the cousins were able to challenge each other on their mess. Even though parents and grandparents aren’t actually in the car with the boys, they are there, impacting every thought, and decision that needs to be made. These boys’ troubles goes back generations, and they’re trying to figure it all out; they’re unpacking it all.

I appreciated that Ethan and Matt used their faith teachings as they’d come to know them to address issues that confronted them. And no, they didn’t always agree.

I’ve grown so, so tired of dual voice narratives. I think they rarely work because the voices sound so similar. Here, Zepeda used alternating chapters to give voice to each of her three main characters, and I really think it really was well done. I didn’t like the rushed, didactic ending both because it was rushed (!) and because I wasn’t ready for the story to end. Not everything reaches conclusion, but does it need to? This was all about the trip, about the boys riding along in The Beast.