Guest review written by Priscilla Delgado
Do you remember the first time you saw a reflection of yourself in a book? I do. I was thirteen years old and we were reading Baseball in April by Gary Soto in my 8th grade English class. I had always been an avid reader, but up until that point, I had never encountered book characters that were like me - Latino/a, who navigated life between two cultures. Reading that book ignited something inside me, and after that, it became my personal mission to find and read books that reflected the Latino experience. As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one seeking out these books. At that same time, in the mid-1990s, several book award programs were created to recognize authentic, exemplary literature that reflected Latino cultural experiences. Among these programs are the Américas Award, the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, and the Pura Belpré Award. As an educator, librarian, and still the bookworm that I’ve always been, seeking out and reading (truthfully, more like devouring) books written about the Latino cultural experience is something I do on the regular now.
One book, in particular, caught my eye a few months ago. Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez is the author’s first young adult novel. It takes place in Argentina, about a seventeen-year-old named Camila, a rising soccer star who puts everything on the line to follow her dreams. At home, she’s an obedient daughter living under her parents’ strict rules. On the soccer field, she is a powerhouse with her expert skills, nicknamed “La Furia”. When her team gets the opportunity to play for the South American tournament, she dares to dream of getting a scholarship to attend a university in North America. BUT...her parents don’t know she plays fútbol (Spanish for soccer). To them, fútbol is a boys’ sport. Furthermore, they think that she’s studying for admission to medical school during all those times that she’s not at home when she’s really playing on the field. To play in the tournament, Camila would need parental permission, so this becomes a major roadblock for her.
Camila is bold and fierce, making tremendous strides as a soccer player and as a young woman. The author creates vivid images throughout the book, putting the reader right there with Camila - in school, talking to her crush, tiptoeing around her house, and crushing it on the field. Here is a character I would’ve looked up to had this book been around when I was a teen. In a society that celebrates machismo and has very specific expectations for women, Camila becomes a force to be reckoned with, going against all odds, even her parents, to pursue her dreams. Camila and her story are an absolute inspiration and a positive reflection of a Latina that is still critically needed today in literature.
Furia has received quite a bit of recognition since its publication. It has been featured in several book club programs, providing platforms to dive deep into the novel. (Who knows, we might just see Furia in a future book box for G.G.’s Book Club!) In January 2021, Furia was selected for the Pura Belpré Award in the newly-created young adult category. It was such a thrill seeing this book that I love getting such prestigious recognition. Like Baseball in April for me all those years ago, Furia is a book that lets me see reflections of myself and of the Latino culture. Both books were incredibly inspiring to me at different points in my life. Both books have been sparks that further ignited my passion for reading and for diversity in literature.
With themes of women empowerment and women in sports, this is the perfect novel to introduce or support discussion about the history of women’s rights. Studies on the history of women in soccer or the history of Argentina could also be explored. Argentinian culture and Latino culture can also be reviewed while engaging with this book. The publisher of Furia has provided a book club kit with additional ideas and resources for instruction.
Furia will set your dreams on fire, and I hope this book will find its way into the hands and hearts of readers of all ages for years to come.
Click HERE to learn more about the Pura Belpré Award and view the award-winning titles.
Click HERE to listen to author Yamile Saied Méndez discuss her inspiration for her novel Furia.
Priscilla Delgado is a doctoral student of Literacy in the School of Education at St. John's University, New York City. She is also Trinity Elite Education & Co.'s Literacy Ambassador. Learn more about Priscilla and her work here.