Grade Level: 5-9
One of my favorite quotes
“Boys and men out here think they can’t ever be sensitive because that’s considered soft or gay. And if the next guy shows some gentle emotion, they say he’s soft or gay.”
Do you know what it’s like to grow up in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of the country? Justin does. Sean, too. Where they live, it’s a matter of survival. On the streets, in school, in their building.
Secret Saturdays reads like a first-hand account of the trials that kids in rough neighborhoods have to deal with daily. Who hears them? Who stands up for them? Torrey Maldonado gives them a voice, one that children in those projects will recognize as their own. One that a kid unfamiliar with such trials will be sensitive to. Among the elements I enjoyed the most while reading Secret Saturdays, the variety of relationships and their portrayals stood out.
First you have the two best friends, Sean and Justin. They’re 12, half Puerto Rican and half Black, and both have to deal with the absence of a father figure in their lives. At some point their friendship is tested, and it causes of course much distress in one of the main characters. Which kids hasn’t experienced that moment when you look at your friend, and wonder if/why he is lying to you? If he can still be trusted?
Then you have the relationship between the protagonists and their mothers. The dynamics between Sean and his mom is quite different from the Justin and his. It is interesting to notice how it affects one–Sean, and by extension the other–Justin.
Let’s not forget the classroom and the school yard, which act as a Petri dish, a closed environment testing the theory of “the survival of the fittest”, with the Projects as laboratory. I’m thinking of those kids right now. They have to play the tough guy on the outside. But how do they really feel behind closed doors?
As rough, and blunt and serious as the narrative can be, Secret Saturdays has this unique and paradoxical touch that can make a young reader feel safe. Indeed, whether it is fiction or not, there is relief in reading about someone going through the same trials you face; inspiration to be found in the ways the characters handle their problems; and ultimately instilled hope, discovery that you, even as a kid, has the strength within to fight for who you really want to be.
Whether as a teacher or a former resident of Red Hook Projects, Torrey Maldonado knows about kids and emotional-intellectual-physical life-threatening situations. And that reality transpires in his work and gives his characters a halo of authenticity. In addition, the author obviously had his young audience in mind when he wrote the novel: Without glamorizing the various social issues depicted in the book, he managed to keep it somehow innocent. Secret Saturdays is indeed curse and sex-free.
Dare I confess? I felt so cool when I closed the book. I read about hip hop and kids who are so good at freestyle rap, a form of poetry, they can do it in their sleep!
Sean’s grades are crashing, he’s acting up, and he takes mysterious trips with his mother every Saturday. I’m asking you: What does Justin do when he sees his best friend slip away? To find out, pick up Secret Saturdays!
Secret Saturdays. Currently playing in a bookstore near you.
Source: Received an ARC from the author.
o Maldonado, Torrey. Secret Saturdays. Penguin Group/G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2010. $16.99. 978-0399251580.
o Torrey Maldonado’s Website.
o Secret Saturdays is a 2011 ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. Congratulations!
o February 12, 2011: Torrey Maldonado featured on The Brown Bookshelf as part of the 28 Days Later Campaign, which celebrates Black History Month.
o February 14, 2011: Torrey Maldonado’s interview on Multiculturalism Rocks! Moving. Funny.