I stumbled across The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano while browsing through the Young Adult section of my local library looking for a new book to read. As a bilingual fourth grade educator, I love YA and children’s literature and am always looking for the next great novel about Latino/a identidad. When I turned to the About the Author page in the back cover and found out the author is Sonia Manzano who played Maria on Sesame Street. During my childhood, she was the first Latina woman who I watched on television. She meant Latinidad to me. I had to read this book.
The novel centers on the events happening in the Puerto Rican neighborhood of East Harlem in 1969 when the Young Lords, a student activist group, begin public displays to draw attention to the issues of poverty in El Barrio. These events occur from the perspective of Evelyn, a fourteen year old girl living in El Barrio. Evelyn is angry at the poverty she witnesses in her neighborhood, though she blames the people in her life, especially her mother, for their problems. Evelyn’s relationship with her mother is the focus of the novel, as Evelyn attempts to put distance between herself and her mother’s world. As Evelyn says, her mother is always attempting to cover up their problems, “tapando el cielo con la mano.” When Evelyn’s grandmother comes to stay from Puerto Rico, Evelyn’s apathetic attitude towards her mother, towards El Barrio and towards her Puerto Rican identity is overthrown.
Manzano employs some truly beautiful language as Evelyn describes the people and events in her life during that fateful year and gives Evelyn a voice that is both powerful and relatable. Despite places in the novel in which the action moves so quickly as to sometimes be confusing, the development of Evelyn and her mother shows a momentum created by the events in that year which, once begun, create irreparable changes in their lives. The inclusion of Spanish dialogue in the novel adds to the environmental authenticity and is well integrated into the action of the novel without detracting with over translation. The changes that the reader sees Evelyn and her family undergo cut to the root of what Manzano deems the “internal revolution” within us and how one’s history ties them to their present and their future. I highly recommend this book to teachers and anyone who enjoys a novel that explores acceptance of identity. I only wish I had been able to read it sooner. Much like her role as Maria on Sesame Street, Manzano’s debut novel manages to uplift as well as enlighten the reader as to the ways that people can change.