Mateo is having a tough year. His best friend Johnny Ramirez doesn't hang out with him anymore, his parents gave his old trike to his annoying little sister, and, worst of all, he's just seen a pair of TALKING SKUNKS steal the trike! Mateo tries his best to live up to the knights in his books, but it's hard to be brave and noble when he gets blamed for things going wrong and his ex-friend is hanging out with a bully and is now ganging up on Mateo and his new friend and....it's just too much. He'll have to make difficult decisions, navigating friendship, identity, and para-military skunks to get his life back on track.
Mateo is a realistic character in that difficult tween stage - sometimes he acts more like a little kid, not wanting his sister to have his old trike, and sometimes he's got more mature concerns. He reflects on his identify as a Mexican-American, the nature of territories and friends, and his adventures with the skunks bring out thoughts on how people interact - and how wars get started. There's a light, fantastical touch in the talking animals, humor in Mateo's inner dialogue and battles with the furry miscreants, and more serious aspects as Mateo struggles to adjust to changes in his life and relationships and decide which friends deserve his loyalty.
Verdict: I enjoyed reading this and it's a sweet and unique book. I don't think I'll have a wide audience for it, but I do have a set of more sensitive boys around this age who will appreciate it and some careful booktalking may introduce it to a wider audience. It will definitely fill a gap in the collection for books featuring diverse kids and addressing issues of friendship and change for younger tweens. I think I'll use it in book club next year, if I can find enough copies.
ISBN: 9781467783064; Published 2016 by Carolrhoda/Lerner; Review copy provided by publisher at BEA; Donated to the library