Aceves, Fred. The Closest I’ve Come. HarperTeen, 2017. 310p. ISBN: 9780062488534. HS, OT ****
Maesta is a rough place to grow up. In these Tampa, Florida projects Marcos lives with his alcoholic mom and her racist, harassing boyfriend. He spends as much time as possible out on the basketball courts with his friends. Unsurprisingly Marcos isn’t doing so well in school. But a teacher nominates him for the Future Sucess program anyway, and when he sees hot girl Amy is in the program, it sets in motion changes for Marcos and everyone he knows.
This is a touching and, ultimately, hopeful book without being saccharine sweet. Aceves does not hold back from describing the difficulties of living in poverty, the racial discrimination faced, and various other circumstances of the community. There are many adult situations described including violence against youth by adults and other youth. Drugs, alcohol, interactions with police, and talk about juvenile detention are very real and relevant. But the characters rise above stereotypes. Poor kids are given opportunities to invest in school and some thrive. Others who have been on a straight path get derailed. With a diverse cast (Marcos is latino, his best friend black, his love interest white, another friend gay) there are many places where race and racism are addressed head on. But what the characters share in common is basic poverty; having no money for shoes or dates or college is something they all know about. Following what these characters each do from this starting place, Aceves takes readers on a deep dive into the day to day of life in the projects. In the end it is unclear what the title refers to. There are so many things that Marcos gets close to doing but doesn’t quite reach, both good and bad. But maybe that is the point – to give readers a close look at life on the margins, on the edge where things could slip either way. Hand this book to more mature readers who like dramatic situations more than drama.
Andrea Mullarkey, Berkeley Public Library