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<< Back to Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood

Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood

The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

 5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars
Sammy Santos is a warmhearted and thoughtful young man who willingly embraces his dad in front of friends, misses his dead mother, and reads bedtime stories to his little sister. However, Sammy also sees his girlfriend Juliana murdered by her father, and he struggles to survive as friends from his New Mexico neighborhood (ironically named Hollywood) are killed in Viet Nam, viciously beaten by a homophobic gang, and destroyed by a drug overdose. Juliana provides a focal point for Sammy’s mourning for the individual people he’s lost and also for the continual crushing of all Mexicana. Sammy’s first-person narration, observant and self-aware, affords a window into a world of quiet despair and stubborn hope, set appropriately against the backdrops of late-1960s social ferment. Agile transitioning between Spanish and English eases readers into Sammy’s own hyphenated world, where rights, wrongs and individuals cannot be easily lumped into discrete black and white. A few triumphs lighten the gloom—Sammy organizes a successful campaign to elect a Hispanic to the student council, leads a student strike that changes the dress code, and gets accepted to all eight of the universities to which he applies. His message is one of victory through endurance rather than escape, as Sammy finds ways to define himself and maintain his loyalties while circumstances prevent him from leaving the barrio. Even readers far removed from the poverty and prejudice that define his world will see this facet of the Mexican-American experience with empathy through Sammy’s eyes.
- September 1, 2004 

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