One boy's search for his father leads him to Puerto Rico in this moving middle grade novel, for fans of Ghost and See You in the Cosmos.
Marcus Vega is six feet tall, 180 pounds, and the owner of a premature mustache. When you look like this and you're only in the eighth grade, you're both a threat and a target.
After a fight at school leaves Marcus facing suspension, Marcus's mom decides it's time for a change of environment. She takes Marcus and his younger brother to Puerto Rico to spend a week with relatives they don't remember or have never met. But Marcus can't focus knowing that his father--who walked out of their lives ten years ago--is somewhere on the island.
So begins Marcus's incredible journey, a series of misadventures that take him all over Puerto Rico in search of his elusive namesake. Marcus doesn't know if he'll ever find his father, but what he ultimately discovers changes his life. And he even learns a bit of Spanish along the way.
Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish is a middle grade contemporary novel written by Pablo Cartaya about Marcus’s search for his father throughout Puerto Rico. At the start of the novel, we are introduced to Marcus, his mother, and his brother, Charlie, who has Down syndrome (I loved that representation), and is obsessed with 1971 classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder, and their lives in Springfield, Pennsylvania. Marcus, a very tall fourteen-year-old who is feared by many of his classmates, runs “businesses” at his school in accordance with school policies, secretly adding that money to a jar of money at home (called Cookie Monster Cash) in order to help his overworked, and incredibly stressed mother, Melissa. She believes she is adding up all the extra money, and will finally be able to take her kids on vacation. After Marcus gets suspended and Charlie’s place at school is threatened due to his disability, Melissa decides it’s time for a break. With a new sudden interest in his father who left years ago, Marcus asks to go to Puerto Rico in hopes to find his dad. There, he discovers family he never thought he had in a cousin of his father’s, Sergio, an emotional, dependent, and hopeful man, his daughter, María, a fiercely strong and funny character, and her two best friends, Hilda and Angela, two German twin sisters that really show siblings at their finest. However, my favorite pair of siblings would have to be Marcus and Charlie because Marcus is always so kind, patient, and protective with his brother.
My favorite part of the book was the conclusion because Marcus realized what was under his nose the entire time, and everyone else understood that Marcus needed to experience it to realize his realization. He really learned a lot about the magic and importance of family, as well. It’s confusing, but once you read the book, you’ll get it. Also, his confidence and look on life really changed after his trip. Marcus had a very strong character arc, one of the best I’ve ever read about, and it felt incredible to go on an emotional journey like this one with the character.
When the book opened, I got SUPER comfortable with Marcus’s Springfield life, and changing the setting so drastically to Puerto Rico bothered me, as much as I loved Puerto Rico; I didn’t like how big of a change it was because I was really starting to settle into Pennsylvania. Also, for the majority of the trip Marcus went on, there was an immensely empty one hundred or so pages where we learned a whole lot about PR. Don’t get me wrong, I loved that culture, and the pictures Mr. Cartaya painted were vivid, but the plot was completely being ignored every two or three chapters, and we just read through character introductions or random events that very distantly tied into the plot. At times, I actually disliked Marcus himself: for the entire trip, he was very ungrateful about meeting family, and being in PR, he just wanted to meet his father, who, for the most part, did not want to be found. Melissa expressed huge discomfort about the idea of seeing the father, and told Marcus several times that it was a bad idea, but Marcus did not listen, and completely disrespected his mother’s comfort zone. It also bothered me how hopeful he was about a man that he was continually told was no good. However, that is one of the best things about this book: it got me so worked up about this fictional world that it felt like a real world. Marcus is a strong protagonist, and his imperfections make him so human (at times very frustrating), but still like everyone, human, and I loved that Mr. Cartaya worked with an imperfect protagonist.
Overall, I enjoyed some major parts of this book, but others fell flat. All the while, the plot was met with a huge cast of strong characters and a very strong character arc. Not to mention, Mr. Cartaya’s writing is beautiful and depicts incredible visuals. His bio is attached below. If this sounds like something you might be interested in, buy it in stores on August 21st, or pre-order it today!
- Nicolai Lilly
Pablo Cartaya's novels explore identity, place, and the spaces in-between. His debut novel about a boy standing up for his community, The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, received three starred reviews. When Pablo isn't writing, he's spending time with his family or dreaming of his next visit to Puerto Rico. Learn more about Pablo at pablocartaya.com and follow him on Twitter @phcartaya.