Review: Becoming Beatriz by Tami Charles

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“They say when you see a wishmaker flower, you’re supposed to make a wish and blow. I thrust my body to the ground, press my face to the pavement, and wish away the first gunshot and panicked faces and screaming voices circling around my ‘hood.”

In this standalone companion to Charles’ 2018 novel Like Vanessa, 15-year old dancer and member of the Latin Diablos gang Puerto Rican Beatriz Mendez contends with the loss of her brother Junito at the hands of a rival Haitian gang and the devastating effect on her family. Navigating her first year of high school and torn between her dream of dancing professionally and the growing demands of the drug empire she’s is expected to continue, Beatriz develops a friendship with new student Nasser, a fellow dancer who charms Beatriz against her better judgment and from whom she hides her Diabla identity. 

Set 1980s Newark, NJ., Beatriz is a devotee of Debbie Allen and Fame! and she looks to her idol for inspiration and guidance: “For me, no one but Debbie Allen exists. I swear she’s talking to me – her words punching me right to the chest, making me want to scream, Yes, I do have a dream … and this ain’t it!” Jumped in at twelve, Beatriz is no stranger to the realities of gang life and the novel’s opening scene – shots flying as she and her older brother dance at her quinceanera – immediately steeps the reader in the touchstones of Beatriz’s life: family, dance, and the Diablos. 

Charles is a master at creating a vibrant sense of place and imperfect and engaging characters that deeply resonate with readers regardless of their individual experience. Becoming Beatriz is a powerful celebration of community, choice, and the importance of representation that should not be missed. 

About The Book:

Beatriz dreams of a life spent dancing–until tragedy on the day of her quinceañera changes everything. Up until her fifteenth birthday, the most important thing in the world to Beatriz Mendez was her dream of becoming a professional dancer and getting herself and her family far from the gang life that defined their days–that and meeting her dance idol Debbie Allen on the set of her favorite TV show, Fame. But after the latest battle in a constant turf war leaves her brother, Junito, dead and her mother grieving, Beatriz has a new set of priorities. How is she supposed to feel the rhythm when her brother’s gang needs running, when her mami can’t brush her own teeth, and when the last thing she can remember of her old self is dancing with her brother, followed by running and gunshots? When the class brainiac reminds Beatriz of her love of the dance floor, her banished dreams sneak back in. Now the only question is: will the gang let her go?

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