For a kid in Los Angeles in 1984, their street can be their whole world. In this illustrated chapter book, that’s precisely what the muddy paradise of Muscatel Avenue is for Alex and Wolf when it’s dug up for repaving. The two transform the deep trench in front of Alex’s house into a bunker from which they launch a spirited street war against the other kids on the block. But underneath the fun, both Alex and Wolf are grieving.
Alex’s busy single mom won’t talk about why her dad left, and by refusing to change out of his soldier’s camouflage uniform, Wolf literally wears his grief for his deceased mother. Though Alex’s Nana is there to provide the pair with burritos and love, her short-term memory is failing. She advises them that some things should stay buried, which Alex learns first-hand when she and Wolf dig up a deed to part of Aztlán – the Mexican part of the United States, the territory longed for by the 1970s Chicano Movement for immigration reform. When Wolf decides to run away, and Alex insists on finding her absent father, they set off on an epic journey that reveals both the wounds of the past and depth of their families’ love in the present.
Toronto based Jiménez enlivens this story set inside a Mexican-American community with a sprinkling of Spanish words that bring the immigrant families’ experience to life. Godoy’s lively black-and-white artwork perfectly captures the kids’ actions and moods, especially at pivot-al moments, while the first-person narration keeps us inside Alex’s head as she realistically struggles with the onset of puberty and her growing discomfort with her changing body. Wolf is also sensitively portrayed in his grief and confusion.
Young readers will be captivated by these strong characters who, armed with a newfound maturity, are empowered to move forward when they come to see their loved ones in a new light.