Boy Kings of Texas Summary

Domingo Martinez

Boy Kings of Texas

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Boy Kings of Texas Summary

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Domingo Martinez’s memoir, The Boy Kings of Texas, tells the story of his violent, sometimes dark, and often funny childhood in the border town of Brownsville, Texas. Martinez came of age in the 1980s, and his memoir is a refreshingly honest and smart look at life growing up in the barrio. He describes his family in detail, telling stories about his beloved older brother Dan, younger sisters, mother, father, and sharp-shooting grandmother. Though much of the book is dedicated to his struggle to avoid drugs, alcohol, and violence, Martinez also talks about his experience as a smart kid in a town with few opportunities, in a time when adults in areas like this discouraged kids from going to college. Martinez talks also about leaving town, and his ability to reflect on his upbringing while packing to move away. Seattle Times reviewers equate the book with Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian for its honesty and discussion of the experience of minorities in small-town America.
 
Domingo Martinez has written two memoirs. His second, My Heart is a Drunken Compass, was published in 2014. The Boy Kings of Texas was nominated for the National Book Award for non-fiction when it was published in 2012.

The Boy Kings of Texas follows a loosely chronological plot through Martinez’s childhood and adolescence, into the years he fell into substance abuse, through a move to Seattle as a young adult, and finally into more reflective years when he struggled to fight the addiction and emotional baggage that followed him from Texas to his new home in the Pacific Northwest. The majority of the book is dedicated to his upbringing in Brownsville, and in over 37 chapters, Martinez describes violent and sometimes funny anecdotes about his hardline grandmother, emotionally and sometimes physically abusive parents, and the addiction, adultery, and bloodshed that occur among people in his community.

Martinez struggles as an adolescent with his fair skin, which puts him on conflicting terms with other Hispanic people in his community. He questions his connection to his own heritage, all while experiencing the realities of life in a predominantly Hispanic town – he writes about father and son drug-smuggling teams that ferry weed to Mexico, and his own family’s history with drugs and alcohol. Though Martinez is an outcast because of his light skin, he also experiences the waywardness and lack of direction that come from growing up in an abusive household and in a community with few economic prospects.

Though much of the book is about violence, both in the surrounding town and among relatives and friends, Martinez’s memoir does have many comforting characters. Martinez’s grandfather is gentle and kind, his brother Dan offers continual support, and as he ages, Martinez finds mentorship in friends’ parents and his supervisors at various newspaper jobs. Martinez inserts bits of humor – particularly about his and his brother’s nicknames. Dan is called !Denny! by his family, always with the exclamation points attached, and so Martinez jokes that Dan grew up to be perpetually startled. Martinez himself was called Yunior, later shortened to June, which confused many strangers who thought, after hearing conversations between his family members, that he was a girl.

Martinez’s status as a misfit is self-proclaimed and he is proud of it. He skips class often to listen to Pink Floyd, and says in his book that he tried to dress as much like Robert Smith as he could manage in a region without any memorabilia from The Cure or The Smiths, where the predominant culture among men was violence, substance abuse, and a heavy dose of machismo.

Martinez has said in interviews that his books are helpful in processing his troubled past and the way his experiences have followed him out of Texas and into the world. One of the more moving chapters in the memoir takes place after Martinez has decided to move to Seattle. As he is packing his bags, he has a series of revelations about the reasons behind his emotionally-stunted and damaged mother and grandmother, returning to an anecdote about Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. This processing continues as Martinez recounts his time in Seattle, where his drug abuse and unhealthy learned behaviors result in as much discomfort as they did in Brownsville, though his new environment seemed so promising and fresh.

A memoir about being an outcast, being intelligent in a world of limited opportunity, and the life-long impact of love, loyalty, and trauma, The Boy Kings of Texas is only becoming more and more culturally relevant as American border towns become more contentious. Martinez’s non-fiction is one of few that discuss the realities of life along the border, and for this reason it was significant for many authors and readers of color and Spanish-speakers when his memoir was considered for the National Book Award.