Living up to your parent’s expectation is always hard in middle school. It’s a time of your life when you want to be your own person and push away from your parents. That’s the theme of The First Rule of Punk by Celia Perez. I read this book as part of the Project LIT book club, a national movement to get culturally relevant texts into the hands of students. It’s a fantastic middle grade novel.
Maria Luisa, she would rather you call her Malu, is a product of Mexican-American mom and a White American father. She refers to her mom as “SuperMexican” because she wants Malu to be more like a “Senorita” and less punk. But Malu wants to be punk, like her Dad, who runs a record shop. When Malu’s mom gets a job in Chicago, they leave Florida and her dad (who is divorced from mom) behind.
Moving causes problems for Malu. She is bullied and called a coconut by her new classmates: Brown on the outside but White on the inside. She has to make new friends, and she decides to start a punk band at school. That causes some controversy when the school doesn’t give support for the band. Malu and friends have to break rules and stand up for what’s right. The focus of the novel is on personal identity. What makes someone Mexican? What makes someone punk? Can you be both? These are important conversations to have with middle school students as they are growing into their identifies.
It’s a fantastic novel, and the amazing artwork throughout showing the zines that Malu makes are a great addition. For our book club, our Spanish teacher created a zine for the class to pass around. Students really loved that. My students also felt like they understood what Malu was going through, and that made the book so much more relatable. As I read this book, I thought this novel would be great as a middle school version of High School Musical.
Perez’s next book, Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers, comes out in September. Keep an eye out for my review of that book in the fall.