Dad believed people were like money. You could be a thousand-dollar person or a hundred-dollar person -- even a ten-, five-, or one-dollar person. Below that, everybody was just nickels and dimes. To my dad, we were pennies.
Fourteen-year-old Manny Hernandez wants to be more than just a penny. He wants to be a vato firme, the kind of guy people respect. But that′s not easy when your father is abusive, your brother can′t hold a job, and your mother scrubs the house as if she can wash her troubles away.
In Manny′s neighborhood, the way to get respect is to be in a gang. But Manny′s not sure that joining a gang is the solution. Because, after all, it′s his life -- and he wants to be the one to decide what happens to it.
Manny Hernandez endures a lot during the year that leads up to his initiation into a California gang. He learns about hard work out in the sweltering vegetable fields and experiences class stratification at a high school party where he is not welcomed. Manny helps his older sister through a life-threatening miscarriage but almost takes his younger brother's life when he accidentally fires his father's shotgun. The young protagonist narrates all of these events with a future writer's eye for detail and a unique take on human character. Martinez's coming-of-age story reads like true adolescence - absurd and funny from a distance, yet painful when you're stuck in the middle of it all. I already lost one afternoon to this bitter-sweet book and now I've picked it up again. I think many reluctant readers would also have a hard time turning away once Manny started talking straight to them about what growing up is really all about.