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Book Review: Z Is for Zapatazo

Z IS FOR ZAPATAZO by Ruben Rivera is an examination of the universal trials of human experience. Check out what Samantha Hui of IBR has to say in her review of this poetry collection.

Book Review: Z Is for Zapatazo

Reviewed by Samantha Hui

Electric and relevant. An examination of the universal trials of human experience.

“America. So well-practiced, / so ill-prepared.”

The true coming of age story is rarely a clean and clear transition from childhood to adulthood. For those who are marginalized, coming of age is rarely a transition and more a thrusting into. 

Ruben Rivera’s Z is for Zapatazo puts a magnifying glass to the system these marginalized bodies are often thrust into. Without offering solutions, it provides readers with something that is quickly becoming scarce: hope. 

This poetry collection is profound and intricate, denouncing systematic racism and corrupt capitalism while also closely following the individual lived experience of those existing in such systems. 

“We were vatos locos, and this was our world. Not the one we made or chose to be born in, but the one we hacked off the hegemonic pie, the one that must take no small part of the blame for what we were.”

Z is for Zapatazo is about the loss of innocence. The titular poem recounts how the speaker in his youth encounters a Spanish alphabet book where the word representing Z was “Zapatazo,” which roughly translates “to kick.” This representative sits in contrast to the alphabet book that the white Cleaver family owned which represented “Zoo” instead. 

The speaker realizes the systems in place have made it such that he is alienated from the seemingly idyllic lives of white families. The poetry also examines the hypocrisy of those supposedly religious people who hold the most contempt toward those around them: “I don’t mean to doubt your faith but / why doesn’t it make you good to me?” The book is ultimately about innocence, about how within an unjust system, it is both stripped away from children and utilized as a weapon by those who are corrupt. 

“Prayers unanswered, my religion urged me / to depend on the power of love. But a ten year old / still wonders if super powers might be more handy.”

The book is lyrically and visually pleasing. In “The Plunge,” as the poem progresses, the lines begin to taper off, becoming shorter and shorter. The action in the poem describes a video of a person attempting to plunge into freezing water but who ultimately lands hard onto the frozen ice; the poem as a whole seems as if it is about how people keep plunging into content that is created to keep people entertained. How the poem tapers off, people require shorter and shorter content to keep them entertained. When speaking about the book as a whole, it is hard not to stop and focus on one poem at a time. Each is so lyrically, visually, and contextually dense that a reader can be transfixed by one poem for hours. 

“Our jargon said, we keep secrets, yeah, from you, pendejo!”

Z is for Zapatazo is a lyrically and politically-driven poetry collection about the collective human experience. The book focuses on the particular experience of Black and Brown people and the brutality they face and sometimes reflect in response to an indifferent, if not cruel, world. Accessible to poetry readers and non-poetry readers alike, this book is an excellent choice for those who have faced turmoil in an unjust system and those who wish to make a change.

Publisher: Atmosphere Press

Genre: Poetry / Hispanic American

Print Length: 104 pages

ISBN: 978-1639882472

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