where Sammy Santos and Juliana Rios live is not the West Coast one, the one
with all the glitz and glitter. This Hollywood is a tough barrio at the edge of
a small town in southern New Mexico. Sammy and his friends, members of the 1969
high school graduating class, face a world of racism, dress codes, war in
Vietnam, and barrio violence.
In the summer before
his senior year begins, Sammy falls in love with Juliana, a girl whose tough
veneer disguises a world of hurt. By summer’s end, Juliana is dead. Sammy
grieves; the memory of Juliana becomes his guide through the difficult year
ahead. Sammy is a smart kid, but he’s angry. He’s angry about Juliana’s death,
he’s angry about the poverty his father and sister must endure, he’s angry at
his high school and its thinly disguised gringo racism, and he’s angry he might
not be able to go to college.
Sáenz, evoking the bittersweet ambience found in such novels as McMurtry’s The
Last Picture Show, captures the essence of what it meant to grow up Chicano
in small-town America in the late 1960s.
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