Strange Birds by Celia C. Pérez: Book Review

December 9th, 2019 by

strange-birdsAs an adult, I just have to say this up front: If you’re in a public bathroom and find an anonymous invitation to a mysterious gathering, DO NOT decide to attend without telling anyone else what you’re doing. I mean, come on, you don’t even have to be an anxious old person like me to know that’s a bad idea.

But a bad idea in real life can certainly make for a good story in a book, can’t it? And Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers by Celia C. Pérez would definitely be a very different book if the four main characters didn’t all come together for their meetings. So I guess I can forgive the dangerous decision in this fictional instance — it sure leads to some exciting adventures!

That’s because Lane, Aster, Cat, and Ofelia are all very strong-willed and passionate people. In fact, they’re not even sure they like each other! But even so, they form a loyalty to one another and to a shared cause, which involves Cat’s love for birds. (Hence the punny title!)

I don’t want to reveal too many details about the girls’ shenanigans, but here’s a taste of what you can expect:

  • Stealthy political protest
  • Multiple chases (involving a security guard and a dog)
  • Rival families
  • Nighttime antics
  • New friends

I really enjoyed spending time with this group and each character separately. Ofelia is an aspiring journalist, Aster is an exceptional baker, Cat is a bird expert, and Lane is an artistic soul. But they are all more than their interests, as they’re each dealing with their own family drama and figuring out how to be the best and truest versions of themselves.

It was fun seeing these different characters come together, get to know each other, and create a partnership to fight for something they really believe in. It’s always inspiring to see people take action for justice and truth — especially when you get to see all the debate and exploration that goes into it. Power and props to these warriors!

If you’re a fan of Celia C. Pérez’s other book, The First Rule of Punk, then you should definitely check out Strange Birds. I’d also suggest this book if you like stories about kids and communities fighting for what’s right — even if that means making enemies of the people in power. So check out Strange Birds if you enjoyed Ghetto Cowboy by G. NeriThe Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya, or the Adam Canfield books by Michael Winerip.

Or just check out the book if you’re looking for some inspiration to get more involved and create change in your own school or neighborhood! After all, as Celia C. Pérez says in the Author’s Note for Strange Birds, “activism is for everyone. … Each of us has the ability to speak up for what we believe in, challenge what we disagree with, and support what we care about.”

— Karen

Karen spends a lot of time at her local library (as a volunteer), but to be honest, she tries to avoid the public bathroom. Maybe next time, she’ll check to see if there are any unusual messages there — but again, she should not and WILL NOT go by herself to meet any strangers. Sheesh.

More about Karen »

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez: Book Review

August 5th, 2019 by

first-rule-of-punkWhat’s the first rule of punk? According to The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez, it’s “There are no rules.”

But as the protagonist’s dad points out, that’s not useful advice for a kid being forced to move to a new city where she’ll be separated from her father and she won’t know anyone. So what’s the second rule of punk? “Be yourself.”

Easier said than done, Malú (short for María Luisa) discovers when her mom drags her to their new home in Chicago. Immediately, she makes an enemy of a popular girl at school. She gets in trouble for violating the dress code. And she can’t seem to get along with her mom, who is constantly bugging her to connect with their Mexican heritage and act like a proper señorita. For Malú, it’s not a good start.

So what’s a punk rocker to do in that situation? Start a punk band, of course! Soon, Malú starts thinking maybe she’s found her crowd and her passion — but not everyone’s happy about Malú’s project. What’s a punk rocker to do when challenged and told to shut things down? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out, of course!

I totally enjoyed The First Rule of Punk from start to finish — and in fact, I was sad when it ended. I wanted to keep hanging out with Malú and her friends and family! I really identified with Malú, who wants to be seen as unique and different and bold. And I understood her desire to oppose what she sees as the restrictive expectations placed on proper, traditional girls from her mother’s culture. I loved following Malú’s journey as she faces these tensions head-on, comes to understand her mom and her heritage better, and grows into herself in pursuit of that second rule of punk.

Plus, the book includes Malú’s zines — the DIY booklets that she makes to express her feelings. I never made any zines myself, but I used to order some through the mail when I was in school, and I always loved flipping through these celebrations of new perspectives. It was awesome for me to see Malú using this empowering medium to share her point of view, putting it out there proudly with a fierce and brave energy. Check out a couple of Malú’s zine pages from the publisher’s website:

zine-pages

I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes stories about being the new kid (like the graphic novel All’s Faire in Middle School and Let’s Pretend We Never Met) or stories about exploring your family’s heritage and culture — even if you have mixed feelings about it at first (like Front Desk and Stef Soto, Taco Queen).

Have you ever wanted to stand out and make an impression on your classmates, like Malú does in the book? Leave a comment below with your story! (Just don’t share any names, including yours!)

— Karen

In high school, Karen always wanted to be seen as weird and “alternative.” This included wearing her dad’s old jeans, even though her dad was much taller and heavier than she was. At one point, she wore a pair of his pants that would fall down around her ankles if she ran — even when she wore a belt!

More about Karen »


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