It is truly a rare occasion when a book touches on cultural topics in single-parenting, alcoholism, poverty, racial tensions, faith and religious questioning, biracial relationships, and more from a son’s perspective. This is a coming of age story of sorts, a growth forced on a young boy in his early childhood which incredibly matures into a man with an empathetic and positive understanding of life. So much has been written detailing the struggles, the obstacles, and the failures of Latino youth and their parents that it is refreshing to read a story that doesn’t ignore or obscure such issues, yet in highlighting them give purpose to our fighting spirits to continue to reach for the positive, have goals, and succeed.
A Rare Thing introduces Javier as a young boy with two loving and hardworking parents, making a better life in the United States for themselves and their young family. Tragedy quickly follows with the loss of Javier’s mother at the age of five. Life as he knows it will instantly change as Javier will be forced to take on the role as the adult and caretaker, for himself and his father. Can a young boy do it? Amazingly, yes! Human nature is a survivor and rather than focus on the struggles and failures of Latino youth that so often are dealt with such challenges, author, Rudy Apodaca, prefers to focus on those of us that have been able to surpass such challenges. A rare thing? Less and less, I would say. These successes are now in the position to forgive, view life empathetically and give of themselves in order to better the outcomes of those following in their footsteps.
As a teenager Javier makes a poignant observation regarding his neighborhood friend, Yolanda:
I had grown to admire her. She hadn’t only matured but had changed for the better and had pulled away from the bad influences in our neighborhood. The girl walking alongside me cared not only about herself but about what became of her. She did that on her own because, as far as I could tell, her parents had little to do with shaping that attitude.
… Although Yolanda still lived with her parents and was close to them, somehow she managed to become her own person, not accepting the thought of her someday living the same lives her mom and dad now did in their small, overcrowded home. She seemed to have made a vow to better herself, as if saying: If I work hard to get a degree, I can do better. And I will!
As a young father, returning to his old neighborhood after fighting in Vietnam, Javier has a spiritual moment giving him serenity and empathy:
It’s as if believing in God helped me look beyond all those bad things, even if they were happening to me. That belief also allowed me to do my very best to get past what got in the way.
For the first time, I now appreciate the strong faith that seemed to drive the lives of those little old ladies in their black shawls I used to see praying at Our Lady of Guadalupe all the time when I was a kid. As frail as they appeared, spiritually, those ragged and wrinkled women were far stronger than I could ever hope to be. With their faith, they seemed capable of overcoming any obstacle or problem that crossed their path on the face of this earth.
A Rare Thing is just that, a novel that frankly calls attention to the difficult challenges of Latino youth, however rarely set within a truthful light that will engage and motivate youth to constructive action. Indeed, a must read.
By Rudy Apodaca
Pub Date: December 2011
$14.72 USD | Paperback
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