Palomos. (Street Kids)

Fueled by a pulsing soundtrack of rap, reggaeton, and rough & ready pop, this work is a bracing blast of Dominican youth culture—yet its witty adolescent angst owes more to J.D. Salinger than to Junot Díaz. The story follows the misadventures of a ragtag gang of aspiring street punks from the perspective of hyperliterate first-person narrator Antonio, known as his richly elaborated fantasy persona, the mad rhyming "MC Yo" of the hip-hop posse Fox Billy Games. Antonio and the other neighborhood kids operate in the towering shadow of the young misanthrope Lacacho, a classic tough guy whose power is rooted in intimidation that Antonio's intelligence gradually learns to recognize and ultimately overcome in a life-affirming climactic scene. Palomos takes a solid place in the long line of youth fiction that updates Catcher in the Rye and translates its themes to new times and new cultural identities. For instance, when Antonio is forced to see a psychologist, he quickly confirms her inability to understand English by throwing quotes from Green Day and Marilyn Manson into the counseling sessions. The ever-present backdrop of Valdez's storytelling is a panoply of lyrics by Daddy Yankee, 50 Cent, Calle 13, Eminem, and many more; the novel includes a detailed musicography with some three dozen entries. During his 2006 residency at the University of California at Berkeley's Townsend Center, the author spoke on hip-hop and reggaeton, styles that he weaves naturally into Palomos. Highly recommended for young adult and adult readers alike.—Bruce Jensen, Kutztown Univ. Lib.., PA

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