Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina won much praise and awards when it was released last year. It has also earned more than its fair share of controversy as people have tried to remove it from library shelves and disinvite Ms. Medina from author visits due to its contents. I am happy to say I've finally read, and it deserves every bit of praise it's received and more besides.
One morning before school, some girl tells Piddy Sanchez that Yaqui Delgado hates her and wants to kick her ass. Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui is, never mind what she’s done to piss her off. Word is that Yaqui thinks Piddy is stuck-up, shakes her stuff when she walks, and isn’t Latin enough with her white skin, good grades, and no accent. And Yaqui isn’t kidding around, so Piddy better watch her back. At first Piddy is more concerned with trying to find out more about the father she’s never met and how to balance honors courses with her weekend job at the neighborhood hair salon. But as the harassment escalates, avoiding Yaqui and her gang starts to take over Piddy’s life. Is there any way for Piddy to survive without closing herself off or running away?
I had strong visceral reactions to this book. Tension, fear I could taste. I felt sick to my stomach in several places. The writing is so emotive I think anyone will experience some similar feelings. Mine were was even stronger because I transferred from a relatively safe academically driven high school to a high school with more gangs, drugs, and violence between my sophomore and junior years of high school. I know how it feels to be scared when you walk down the halls when that's not something you've ever experienced before. I know that desire Piddy feels to keep her head down, vanish, become nothing to save herself from being noticed. I don't know what it's like to actually be a specific target though, and watching Piddy's life unravel as the bullying got worse and worse was so hard.
One could say that this is an "issue book", a book about bullying to build empathy for those who may experience it and to educate everyone on what it looks like and the effect it can have. It is that. But more importantly, it is a book about a person. Piddy is smart and she has plans for her life. Plans she begins to throw away one at a time as she is further victimized. With few words and just showing Piddy's life, Medina paints a vivid picture of how terror can break a person and break them to pieces, more than just the physical results of a beating. Piddy's story is more than just the story of her problems with Yaqui Delgado though. It is about her strained relationship with her mother, further strained by the events presently occurring. It is about her relationship with her best friend, changing by absence after so many years of closeness. It is about her relationship with her mom's best friend, who is like her aunt and is her confidant. It is about her relationship with her community. All these work together to bring the setting and story alive without requiring a whole lot of description.
The book is also in many ways, the story of Yaqui Delgado. I really liked that Medina made no attempt at the whole redeemed bully story here. Yaqui is not a pleasant person. She is hardened. She is mean. But by simply presenting the facts of the world in which she lives, Medina highlights how the system is failing kids like Yaqui. It shows how truly overwhelmed, exhausted, and hand tied the school workers are when dealing with too large a population of students that they don't have the resources to help.
While not an easy book to read, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass is an important book to read and one I look forward to sharing with my daughter in a few years.