This book set in the 80s is about gang violence, drugs, first love, and racial identity. Beatriz is just celebrating her fifteenth birthday when her brother is killed by a rival Haitian gang. With his death, she steps up to participate in their Puerto Rican gang, the Diablos, but his death haunts her and taints the meaning she previously got out of being affiliated with his group. She's also attracted to a geeky Haitian boy named Nasser, who might or might not be affiliated with their rivals. Nasser likes Beatriz for who she wishes she was and encourages her to pursue her love of dancing. Beatriz must decide whether she wants to break out and pursue her dreams or continue the cycle of violence.
I have mixed feelings about this book. I really liked the first half. I felt like it was a lot like THE HATE U GIVE, in that it explored the way violence affects a community, as well as the experience of coming of age as a person of color. Beatriz is Puerto Rican and black, and the book talks about that dual identity, as well as some of the discrimination that occurs within minority groups. It handled the topic of gangs really well, and I liked how there was a bit of a Romeo and Juliet element with her romance with Nasser, even though it felt a lot like insta-love in how it came out of the blue and he was like a smooth-talking Nice Guy (and no, not a Colin Firth kind of nice guy, but a fedora-wearing, white-knighting, milady nice guy).
I think my biggest complaint of BECOMING BEATRIZ is that it didn't feel long enough or developed enough to fully explore all the issues it presented. The whole thing with the gang ended pretty anticlimactically and I was expecting more development with the mystery girl with the ice-blonde braids. All of that basically petered out to nothing. I also felt like the author didn't really develop Beatriz's connection to Fame to the plot of the book. Beatriz is supposed to be torn between two very different worlds, but so many of the dance scenes felt dialed in. I guess what I'm trying to ineloquently say is that it lacked passion. The dancing lacked passion. The romance lacked passion. The only thing that had emotional punch were her misgivings of the gang and her loss of her brother.
I did ultimately end up liking this book but it was also a disappointment because it wasn't as good as it could have been. I also really don't like the cover-- I think it makes this book look very middle-grade, and the ideas and concepts in it are much more mature than the cover lets on. Someone should really rebrand this book so it ends up in the hands of teens who enjoy books like THE HATE U GIVE and want to read similar coming of age stories revolving around racial identity and community.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars