In a lot of ways, Chulito is like a lot of urban 15 year olds. He shares an apartment with his single mother, he sells drugs and he’s a high school dropout. But, Chulito has a secret…he’s gay.
Oshun be praised!!! I loved this book!!! Okay, had to get that out of my system. Now, let me tell you about my Reviewers’ Find of the Week. According to his website, Charles Rice-González has a bunch of fancy degrees and is a very busy guy. He is the director of BAAD, The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance and is a community activist. I am just thankful that he didn’t let real life get in the way of his writing Chulito. This is the most authentic YA novel, of its genre, I’ve ever had the privilege to read in a long time.
Chulito is a young man and as such, very much a victim of the pact mentality. He’s lived in the same building forever, had the same friends and is comfortable in his little world. But, when he sees his openly gay friend kiss another guy, something inside him clicks. It takes him a minute to realize the feeling gnawing at his gut is jealousy. And even after he comes to acknowledge his attraction, he is too immature to break free from the pack.
This is an amazing coming of age story. Chulito is forced to examine what it means to be a man. His environment is steeped in Latino machismo. His picture of manhood has been shaped by his neighborhood. A working poor ghetto filled with drug lords and gangs. I spent much of this book praying he didn’t get killed before he figured it out. The language is raw and some readers might be offended by the liberal use of urban vernacular and racial epitaphs. I could do an educational rant on the intracultural use of the word “nigga”, but I won’t. Just know that the N-word can be used as a term of endearment.
Throughout the book, Chulito wears many masks. Each is real at the moment. One minute he’s 100% gangsta, getting his hustle on, the next he’s a slobbering love-sick fool, wanting only to be with Carlos. Luckily, Rice-González has crafted an amazing support team for him in the persons of Kamikaze, Julio and Brick. Through them, Chulito learns that no one is all good or all bad. And regardless of what path you choose, a real man will forge his own way and take responsibility for his choices.
The story is set in the Bronx and Rice-González did an excellent job bringing that world to life. It’s easy to imagine the author as a young man in this vibrant world; not just some generic Latin world, but Newyorican New York, a unique blend of Black speech, Latin passion and New York rawness. Chulito made me homesick for the energy of the city. I saw the young men that I grew up with and loved as a teenager.
I have no doubt that Chulito will appeal to a wide range of readers. His message of self-acceptance will resonate with adults who have crossed over to a world outside the pack and young people still finding their way.
I wouldn’t be much of a reviewer if I gave away the ending, but know that I cried. Cried for the thug who loved another dude, for the young man who dared to dream and for the community that loved them both.
Chulito is beautifully written, wonderfully crafted; an exquisite addition to LGBT YA fiction. If this book doesn’t receive any awards, it won’t be because I didn’t nominate it. I am the newest Charles Rice-González fan. Hopefully, I’ll be able to track him down and do an interview with him, at some point. In any event, I hope he finds the time to craft another wonderful story in Chulito’s world. Highly recommend.