- Call Me Henri
Enrique (aka Henri) juggles ESL classes at Peralta Middle School and responsibilities at home babysitting his three baby brothers, all the while trying to avoid the gangs that plague his neighborhood, not to mention his stepfather's harsh temper. Privately, he longs to learn French, a language more similar to his native Spanish than English, feeling that skill will take him away from his troubled life. López tempers the harsh urban circumstances with gentle humor and by portraying the world through Enrique's innocent and untainted perspective (in fact, Enrique sometimes seems younger than a typical middle-schooler). The absorbing story creates memorably vivid characters—Marvin Alfaro's abuelita accompanies him to each of his classes and grins proudly whenever he speaks; Enrique's friend Horacio says "Hay labio jabón lechuga" to any girl who walks by because he thinks it sounds romantic (translated, it means "There is lipsoap lettuce"). The story is choppily written, though, and the ending sequence of events (Enrique witnesses a drive-by shooting in which Horacio is seriously hurt and Enrique becomes the gang's next target; concerned teachers enroll him in a French immersion program in Canada and sneak him, dressed as a girl, to the airport) is rushed and barely plausible, with all concluding a bit too neatly. Still, readers will not begrudge the worthy Enrique an optimistic ending and the fulfillment of his dream—one can hope that his new direction will allow him to escape his past and reach his potential.