Reviewed by Joe Walters
As important as it is riveting, Throw shines as a spectacular YA novel on life, gangs, and heartbreak near the US-Mexican border.
This thing belongs on your bookshelf. In your hands. In your kids’ hands. It’ll get you flipping pages and immersing you in a rich culture. With an authentic and kindhearted voice, Ruben Degollado takes you on a journey with a group of Latino American teenagers on their quest to belong and overcome.
“The story begins as it ends, with me, Cirilo Izquierdo, waiting for what all of us spend our whole lives waiting for: to not be alone anymore.”
On the very first page, readers are told something is going to happen in this story. Cirilo (or “Guero” to his friends) is going to lose two people “who were closer than blood to me.” It plants a wariness for the reader to approach each new scene, each new scuffle with a rival gang. But it’s not this lingering doom that keeps us flipping pages; it’s the people, the kids, the lives we come to root for.
Cirilo is different from his friends. He’s light-skinned, from the better part of town, and isn’t in the local gang, but he’s the same as his friends, too. Unmistakably. And he’s happy about it. Above all, he and his friends stick together. In a town where emotions aren’t exactly worn on sleeves, the close relationship between Cirilo, Angel, and Smiley is as touching as it is unbreakable. I’d be lying if their welcoming embrace didn’t make me feel welcome, too.
In order to write a book that feels as real as this one, you’re going to need some sharp dialogue and plenty of realistic experiences. In Throw, you get them both in droves. The dialogue is often a blend of Spanish and English, humor and seriousness, and the characters engage with their surroundings in concrete, recognizable ways. You know where you are, who is around you, and that you’re not ready for whatever trauma is to come.
There’s plenty of love to go around the book, too. Adolescent flirting keeps the scenes fun and inviting, while the relationships delve into more serious matters and keep us rooting for each character. I, for one, was immensely happy that Smiley kept shooting his shot.
There are so many wonderful things about Throw, but for me, nothing quite matches Llorona. Take a break from reading this review, and peek up at the book’s beautiful cover art. Meet Karina, Cirilo’s one true love. Broken, beautiful, and bearing the nickname La Llorona. This young woman is nicknamed after the legend of a ghost who haunts the Rio Grande river alone. And while there are similarities between the two, there are differences as well. One of them? There’s hope for Karina. You can feel it.
Each description of this young love interest is written so gently and with such care. Despite being an ex-girlfriend, Llorona undoubtedly has all of Cirilo’s heart. He mentions her nearly every time he meets someone new. And while he has his own fair share of teenage immaturity, he also knows beyond his years in which ways he needs to care for her. He withholds information from his peers (and the reader) about what exactly haunts Llorona, so we trust him with her. We root for her along with him, despite her imperfect treatment of our main character. And we call desperately for her to shed what haunts her and allow herself to love again.
“There Llorona was again, I thought, floating around us even though she wasn’t even here, intruding into the world of the living.”
Throw will undoubtedly go down as one of the best books I’ll read this year. Not only does the story hit hard and effectively, but it tackles the stories of Latino American youth in realistic, empathetic ways. It would be a great choice for you, your teenager, and really, just about anybody who gets their hands on it.
Publisher: Slant Books (Wipf & Stock)
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