Middle Grade Review: They Call me Güero

They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid’s Poems by David Bowles

Genres: Middle Grade, Novel in Verse
Maturity Level: 2
View on Goodreads
Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

In Spanish, “Güero” is a nickname for guys with pale skin, Latino or Anglo. But make no mistake: our red-headed, freckled hero is puro mexicano, like Canelo Álvarez, the Mexican boxer. Güero is also a nerd—reader, gamer, musician—who runs with a squad of misfits like him, Los Bobbys. Sure, they get in trouble like anybody else, and like other middle-school boys, they discover girls. Watch out for Joanna! She’s tough as nails.

But trusting in his family’s traditions, his trusty accordion and his bookworm squad, he faces seventh grade with book smarts and a big heart. Life is tough for a border kid, but Güero has figured out how to cope.

He writes poetry.

What a lovely, powerful book. If poetry is supposed to make you feel something, Güero definitely succeeded.

Middle Grade classifies such a range of children with such different maturities and interest. This book is going to appeal primarily to kids at the older end of that spectrum, maybe seventh and eighth grade. However, these poems are so full of depth and, maturity that I think they would be excellent for high school use as well.

I admit, I am a total novice when it comes to poetry, especially free verse poetry which is the primary format in this novel. I don’t really understand how it’s different than prose, why the poet chooses to start a new line here or there. While I really enjoyed the couple of metered, rhyming poems (most of those were comedic in tone), I didn’t really understand most of the poetry. EXCEPT that Güero had me feeling all the emotions. I really connected with his words.

Güero is such an adorable main character. I love how comfortable he is in his Mexican-American skin, how confident he is in that identity. Even though he doesn’t look the part, having inherited all of the Irish genes, his culture permeates every single poem, the way he views the world. I also loved seeing a self-proclaimed nerd as the main character. He knows he is different, but he is unapologetic. That’s important for kids in middle school to see, I think. Güero also isn’t too concerned with gender roles, and it was so sweet to see him and his sister trading places on Thanksgiving day, she going and watching football and he joining the tias in the kitchen. His family doesn’t make a big deal about it, and the ladies rather like having Güero around.

In fact, this book was very anti-toxic-masculinity throughout, albeit in subtle ways. In 2020 I think that’s something our boys need in their media. Period.

This own-voices book was completely infused with Mexican-American culture, especially as it exists along the Texas border. From the use of Spanish words throughout, to the food and music, even to the uncle who teaches the Mexican-American history they don’t teach in school. The poems encompass such a wide range of aspects of life along the border. I feel so thankful to have gotten a glimpse into that life.

There’s quite a few poems about race and racism along the border. PUT THIS IN THE WHITE KIDS’ HANDS. This kind of book, being written now, is exactly the kind of thing we need kids reading if we don’t want them to keep saying “That doesn’t happen anymore” or “Racism isn’t a problem” when they grow up.

On the other hand, it also deals with the kind of “reverse racism” of Latinx students who bully Güero because he doesn’t look Mexican enough. That’s a theme I’ve seen in several stories about immigrants, where they might be rejected by the community if they’re “too American.” I think that it was done very well in this book, with Güero owning his identity regardless of what other people think.

I strongly recommend this book for middle or high schoolers. (or adults, tbh) I think it would make an excellent addition to the classroom, perfect for units on poetry. And if anyone wants to Zoom with me and teach me poetry, I’d be excited to read these poems again with better understanding, lol.

4 thoughts on “Middle Grade Review: They Call me Güero

  1. These are exactly my thoughts about free verse…and I have a literature degree. Maybe I need a creative writing degree to understand because it always makes me want to write a prose paragraph and break it up randomly and then see if I can pass it off as poetry to other people!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds interesting with many important topic. I also don’t understand poetry much and that’s the reason I don’t read them. I don’t think I’m best person to review it and I’m not even sure I can interpret it right. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

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