Piddy Sanchez’ perfectly normal morning gets interrupted by some girl informing her that Yaqui Delgado wants to kick her ass. Piddy’s not sure why—she doesn’t even know who Yaqui is or why Yaqui has it out for her. Maybe it’s that she has whiter skin than the other Latina girls at school. Or could it have something to do with the fact that her ass now seems to have a mind of its own when Piddy walks?
Regardless, Yaqui means business, and she makes sure Piddy knows it. Piddy tries to find ways to deflect the harassment and get Yaqui off her back, but the bullying continues to get worse, extending outside of school into her home life and weekend job at the neighborhood salon. How can Piddy survive when every action she takes is guaranteed to cause even worse backlash from Yaqui and her friends?
I was curious about Meg Medina’s YA books, particularly her latest one Burn Baby Burn, but decided to start with Yaqui Delgado (possibly because it has the more attention-grabbing title?) Yaqui Delgado ended up being a pretty straightforward contemporary YA read that I zipped through pretty easily in the space of a day (which almost never happens anymore what with being in school and all.)
Ostensibly Piddy experiences an open-and-shut case of bullying, but there’s more to it than Piddy randomly becoming a target. Sexism, body image, and race + class swirl together to form a bewildering situation for Piddy to comprehend and navigate as she tries to keep herself safe. The book also explores the culture surrounding bullying in school settings perpetrates silence by virtue of the school being unable to shield the bully’s victim from retaliation if they report their abuser. Yaqui Delgado goes a step farther to actually characterize the bullying Piddy experiences as abuse, which I especially appreciated in how Piddy’s healing is portrayed in the aftermath.
My favorite thing this book does is to confront the shame that can come from getting out of a bad situation. Standing up to a bully or an abuser is frequently not the answer, and sometimes the safest thing to do is to get out. It doesn’t mean the bully has “won,” but that the person being bullied has done what’s necessary for themselves. Yaqui Delgado doesn’t present easy answers for Piddy’s situation or the subject of bullying at large, and in that respect it is a worthwhile take on the issue.
I don’t feel like I have much else to say—the book was exceptionally straightforward in its intent to tell a story about bullying, and it succeeded in that. Otherwise I never became particularly attached to any of the characters. Piddy was decently-written, but never came to life for me as a character to invest in. I was partial to Lila, Piddy’s mother’s best friend and surrogate aunt. She’s fun and flamboyant and has a core of steel, and makes for a good ally when Piddy needs one. One relationship that definitely needed a lot more development was between Piddy and her old neighbor Joey, with whom she gets sort of involved with and who helps her with the bullying in his own way.
Yaqui Delgado was nuanced in the subjects included within it, but the straightforward storytelling did give it a feel of an “after-school special.” It can be complicated balancing story with intended topics of exploration without tipping too far into being About the Message at the expense of the stories and characters themselves, and I’m not sure Yaqui Delgado entirely succeeded.
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass is a thoughtful book about bullying, and Piddy’s story is certainly worth reading both for teenagers and adults. It’s possible regular and more appreciative readers of contemporary YA will derive more from the book than I did, but I found myself wanting more.