Hardcover, 272 pages
Published March 26th 2013 by Candlewick
“SKANK is scribbled in ballpoint pen on my desk. I don’t exactly know why my heart starts to thump. It’s not like there aren’t messages and other handiwork all over this school. Take auditorium seat J-8. I found out during last week’s Expectations of Excellence assembly that it’s got a faded image of a penis carved on the armrest. No one likes to sit in the Pecker Chair for an assembly. People make fun of you the whole day after that. Ask Rob.”
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass is an unflinching look at what happens to a girl when the school bully targets her. Meg Medina, in just 272 pages, manages to tell a strong, solid story that is also a commentary on rape culture, bullying and school politics, sisterhood, female sexuality, friendship and the relationship between children and parents. Piddy Sanchez is an honor student and when she moves houses with her mother, she is forced to transfer to a new school. One morning, a girl she is barely acquainted with tells her that Yagui Delgado wants to kick her ass. At this point, Piddy has no idea who Yaqui Delgado is and why she wants to kick her ass. When Piddy asks what she has done to offend this Yaqui, she is told that Yaqui doesn’t like the way Piddy shakes her ass.
And bam! Immediately, the attention is on Piddy’s body. A body Piddy is still getting to know. Male consumption of female bodies and women being victims to the male gaze is a recurring theme in this book.
“Yeah, sure. That’s what you think.” She sounds a little sad when she says it. A boy hasn’t looked Mitzi in the eyes for years. Their eyes stayed glued to her chest. “I’ll be her boyfriend noticed you or something like that. But if that’s what happened, you’re done.”
“Nobody is in the school yard when I get there, except for a few guys hanging near the fence. I recognize a couple of them from the forbidden Latin lunch table. I walk fast, trying not to be noticed, but, of course, they have to go out of their way to call me out. “Move that junk, mami!” one of them calls, making squeezing motions with his hands. I don’t turn around to give him the finger, though I probably should. Instead, I hurry up the steps two at a time.”
The true reason Yaqui is out to get Piddy becomes clear when she tells Piddy to “stay away from Alfredo” her boyfriend and a boy Piddy has never exchanged a word with. He is one of the guys making lewd gestures to her in the schoolyard but it is Piddy who gets blamed for his attention. This, my dear readers, is classic rape culture where men’s attention is blamed on a woman and not the men themselves.
Piddy’s fear of Yaqui leads her, unsurprisingly, to change drastically; her grades suffer and she skips school, not feeling safe inside it. Her only female friend becomes a stranger and the boy she sort of maybe likes is battling his own demons in the form of an abusive father. Piddy is unable to get along with her mother who is determined that Piddy not make the same mistakes she did. Her pseudo-aunt, her mother’s best friend, is the only one she can turn to and confide but even Lila is limited in her ability to help Piddy.
The novel is refreshing and realistic. The denouement is a chilling comment on society’s failure where victims of bullying are concerned. I like that Piddy made the decisions she did and I like that there was no romanticized reconciliation. Yaqui is never painted in a sympathetic light and I liked that. Medina portrays the community of Latinas who though they do not always get along still carry bits of home in them – all the women, gossipy and nosy, still play integral parts in Piddy and her mother’s lives. The novel has a warmth to it that is frequently lacking in other books in the same genre. It feels authentic and painful – the book is not easy to read but at the same time, Medina does not linger or create unnecessary pathos or melodrama. The fact that the novel is true to the characters and the story they tell is what makes it so successful.
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass portrays the darker side of school that is an unfortunate reality to so many children nowadays. Maybe reading this book will help them find their own solutions. Definitely recommended.