111 pages • 3 hours readMatt de la Peña
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Danny Lopez arrives in National City, a suburb just south of San Diego. The area’s proximity to the border makes it heavily Hispanic. Danny has come to spend the summer with his father’s family while his mother and sister are in San Francisco with his mother’s new boyfriend.
From the start, it’s clear Danny does not fit in. He is from a beach community in northern San Diego County,where he plays baseball and attends Leucadia Prep, an elite private school. When he arrives wearing surf-style clothing and Vans, he feels out of place and is self-conscious. Furthermore, he is sixteen, lanky and struggling to find his identity in the absence of his father.
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Further complicating Danny’s feelings of abandonment is his sense that because of his mixed heritage—he is half Mexican and half white—he does not belong anywhere. He wants desperately, or at least he thinks he does, to fit into his dad’s big Mexican family. They accept, love and even admire Danny, but he sees his whiteness and relative privilege as obstacles that keep him separate from being a real part of the family. The Lopezes speak predominantly Spanish, which is another impediment for Danny. He feels that by spending time with his father’s family, he will become more Mexican, something he has told himself his father must have wanted. Danny has also met a young woman, Liberty, who is half Mexican as well. Liberty does not speak English well. He is infatuated with her and takes some solace in knowing she too is only half Mexican.
Lacking information, Danny has created a narrative explaining his dad’s absence. Danny believes his father has moved to Mexico because he wanted to get away from a city where there were so many white people, and because he had mistakenly had a half-white son. Danny’s Mexican identity has become of absolute importance—it’s the only way he can be acceptable to his father. Danny’s other focus, baseball, is also tied to his relationship with his father. His dad inspired him to be a pitcher as a young boy, when his father told him that the pitcher held all the power. With his pitching abilities intertwined with feelings of abandonment and self-doubt, he struggles to perform in situations where there is any pressure.
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As time passes, Danny develops a close friendship with Uno, his former nemesis. Uno believes in Danny and his abilities, and through their “hustles,” Danny is able to continue working on his pitching. Eventually, he learns to quiet his mind and let the talent flow through him. He also learns his father’s whereabouts and that his dad has been keeping watch over him through a surrogate. Knowing the truth about his father causes Danny to believe he can make it with or without his dad, and he is less focused on becoming just like him. The motivation to give up everything advantage in his life to become just like his father’s family is squelched when he witnesses his Uncle Ray commit a grotesquely violent murder. Danny is shocked into realizing he is not really like his family and starts on the path to contentment and just being himself.
By Matt de la Peña