—Debbie Allen, star of Fame
"Redemption is a heartbeat away."
—Guadalupe Garcia McCall, author of the Pura Belpre Award winner Under the Mesquite
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?
Set in New Jersey in 1984, Beatriz's story is a timeless one of a teenager's navigation of romance, her brother's choices, and her own family's difficult past. A companion novel to the much-lauded Like Vanessa.
Praise For Becoming Beatriz…
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Fifteen-year-old Beatriz Mendez lives a split life between school and gang life, caring for her mother and enforcing gang rules, dancing with an attractive Haitian boy, and carrying a razor blade tucked in her cheek. Set in the 1980s, Tami Charles’s gritty Becoming Beatriz shows Beatriz’s limited choices and the strength she finds to create new ones.
Beatriz, her brother Junito, and her mother leave Puerto Rico for New York City to escape her father’s abuse. Junito turns to dealing to augment the scarce income from their bodega. He forms and heads a gang, the Diablos, which leads to his death in the book’s opening pages. His mother’s grief renders her a vague, emotionally absent character. The dancing that once defined Beatriz now feels worlds away.
Beatriz is also in New York at a time when Fame was at its height and Debbie Allen served as the toughest taskmaster every dancer ever wanted. The only remaining bond between Beatriz and her mother is the television show, and the power of hope that is defined within it is evoked by the plot. Tryouts come to the city, and Beatriz is lured back to dance. But gang life—blood in, blood out, the trap set for Beatriz with her gang initiation at twelve—still looms.
Beatriz is an intense lead, fully aware of the fact that the people and things that she loves could destroy her. Her narration is sympathetic, even through difficult events. She wriggles through narrower and narrower choices, always striving to find another way. In the tough and hopeful Becoming Beatriz, gangs and hatred can destroy families from the inside out, but talent and grit help people to heal and rise.
It is the mid-1980s and Beatriz worships the TV show Fame. Her mom brought Beatriz and her brother, Junito, to New Jersey from Puerto Rico to escape their abusive father who particularly targeted Junito for not being masculine enough. Beatriz dreams of dancing professionally like her inspiration, Debbie Allen, but when Junito is murdered by Haitian gang leaders, she steps up her involvement with the Diablos, their Newark gang. A Shakespearean twist brings the beautiful and nerdy Haitian Nasser into Beatriz’s life. Nasser’s multifaceted brilliance inevitably wins Beatriz’s heart and leads her back to her passion and commitment to music. Family and school dynamics are spot-on as authority figures range from completely clueless to vitally aware. The language is improbably tame at times for a girl who conceals a razor blade in her cheek every day, but the accurate and immersive ‘80s music, fashion, and historical references outweigh these scattered lapses. Some of the Spanish dialogue is defined by context, but English monolingual readers may need to translate a few phrases or miss out on details. Similar to The Hate U Give, this book offers readers painful and intimate experiences with injustice through an intensely effective first-person narrative. VERDICT Compelling romance with insightful commentary on racial, cultural, and LGBTQ discrimination alongside the realistic depiction of gang dependency and its impact
—School Library Journal
Beatriz, first introduced in Charles’ Like Vanessa (2018), wanted to dance and become famous for it, until the day of her fifteenth birthday, when a rival gang drove by her family’s bodega and murdered her brother, Junito. He’d been the head of the Diablos, and Beatriz a blossoming Diabla, though she still harbored her dreams of meeting Debbie Allen and making her Fame dreams come true. After her brother was taken from her, though, she stopped dancing. It takes her a year of floating along with the Diablos and trying to do what she thinks Junito would have wanted before she goes back to dreaming and, ultimately, becoming whom she was meant to be. Though the situations and story line are heavy, and the average modern reader might not easily relate to a gang in the ’80s, Beatriz’s often funny, descriptive first-person narrative is a welcoming avenue into her story. Readers with diverse backgrounds will feel at home with Beatriz’s identities as Latina, Black, and American, and everyone will be cheering her on, right up until the satisfying, heartwarming end.
Charlesbridge Teen, 9781580897785, 272pp.
Publication Date: September 17, 2019
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. “Un secreto entre de dos, se quede entre los dos. Pero un secreto entre de tres, sabe todo el mundo.” “A secret between two can stay secret—but a secret between three, the whole world knows.” What do you think of this saying? Is it possible for more than two people to share a secret? Why or why not?
2. Discuss Junito’s secret. Given the historic and cultural setting, what would happen if his secret was revealed?
3. Beatriz is certainly attracted to Nasser, but what else does he represent to her?
4. When truths begin to reveal themselves to Beatriz, her world shatters a little bit. But she still has dance. Would you call that an escape or a destination?
5. Throughout this book, faux newspaper articles are reproduced in the pages, giving a media perspective on the events of Beatriz’s life. What do you notice about the tone, format, and scope of these articles? How do they paint a different or similar portrait of Beatriz’s life compared to her own words?
6. Each flashback scene is formatted like a track in a music album (Track Five: Dance of the Rumba, December 8, 1983, for example). What does this say about the relationship between music, memory, and history?
7. Writing is an important part of Mami’s healing process. What do you think of the difference between her poems and Beatriz’s poems? Is there anything about Mami’s writing that surprises you? Why or why not?
8. Becoming Beatriz opens with a violent episode. What do you think about how this sets the tone and pace of the story?
9. Why does Beatriz refuse to tell the police about what happened with Junito and the Macoutes?
10. “Two feelings break out in a war—hate and loyalty. And honestly, I can’t shake either.” Discuss this phrase: What is Beatriz’s mindset when she thinks it? How does it resonate with your own life?
11. Discuss Beatriz’s adult role models. Does she have strong relationships with them? Why does Beatriz resist connection with the adults in her life?