“When We Make It” Book Review

Hey y’all!

I first heard about this book from Ada Rojas. I was tapping through Instagram stories and I saw this book that she was promoting. I thought it sounded pretty interesting and kept it in the back of my mind for future reference. It then started popping up all over my Instagram feed so I finally went ahead and got the book and I’m so glad I did. The fact that this was a debut, blew me away.

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An unforgettable, torrential, and hopeful debut young adult novel-in-verse that redefines what it means to make it,” for readers of Nicholasa Mohr and Elizabeth Acevedo. Sarai is a first-generation Puerto Rican question asker who can see with clarity the truth, pain, and beauty of the world both inside and outside her Bushwick apartment. Together with her older sister, Estrella, she navigates the strain of family traumas and the systemic pressures of toxic masculinity and housing insecurity in a rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn. Sarai questions the society around her, her Boricua identity, and the life she lives with determination and an open heart, learning to celebrate herself in a way that she has long been denied.When We Make It is a love letter to anyone who was taught to believe that they would not make it. To those who feel their emotions before they can name them. To those who still may not have all the language but they have their story. Velasquez’ debut novel is sure to leave an indelible mark on all who read it.

Review: I enjoyed this book. She brought up some pretty good points and even though I’m not from the hood or New York, some of the same feelings about trying to make it out alive is how I felt growing up (still do sometimes). Did I grow up poor? No but I still wanted to make it out of my hometown and had the need to be successful. I loved the idea of finding out who you are. I feel bad that I don’t know about my Bahamian heritage much and like I said, I’m not Puerto Rican, I can understand not knowing your history and wanting to know more about where your people come from and feel some sort of ownership to your culture. The author wrote this story so well. I like it a lot!

One particular part that stood out to me was when she said “Anyways, if we are just a game/that somebody in the real world/is playing I wish they’d hurry up/and tell me if I win or lose.” Like that part! As you may or may not know, I’m super impatient. I’m the type of reader who reads the ending first so that I can be at ease and know how things end. It doesn’t ruin anything it just makes me feel better as I’m reading. Anyway, that’s how I feel about life. I wish I knew what would happen in my future, especially when I feel oh so unsure about life.

A scene that brought back memories for me was when she talked about how her mom would splash olive oil (or “anointing” oil) on the walls of a motel to protect them from evil and it made me chuckle. One of my cousins is a minister and thats what she does to anyone who is moving into a place to protect us (or them) while we (or they) lived there. I saw that that was a trait I guess for super religious people. If I’m wrong, let me know. Educate me.

Of course, whats a Latinx book without the discussion of race (which is skin color people! Some folks don’t know the difference between race and ethnicity)? She mentioned that her Wela (grandma or abuela) used the word triguena when describing someone’s color. Her wela pointed out that some family members were from Spain but that was about it. She never discussed their history or any other race. Since her dad was white passing, he got good jobs but her dad refused to see his privilege. People who were black and brown were more likely to get the “bad jobs”. He didn’t think he’d gotten jobs because of the fact that he was white passing. he believed that if you just worked hard enough, you’ll make it.

Of course mental health was mentioned. In the book, Sarai’s mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia but her mother refused to acknowledge it. She called it los nervios instead. I’m not sure why, but the older generation doesn’t like talking about mental health and mental health issues. The fact that they refuse to accept it or deal with it makes it hard to treat. They try to brush it up under the rugs and leaves us to deal with the fallout from it. We end up hurt as well because they don’t want to talk about their mental struggles or treat it. Talk about emotional damage!

Sarai loved reading books and going to the library because it provided an escape for her. She said “we get to live inside of a book/and be somebody else too.” Reading is an escape for a lot of people, including myself. Especially when things are really hard, we can just imagine ourselves as someone else. We can go on journeys to different countries and see through the lens of someone else. One of the reasons why I just love reading!

This book is written in verse so it was very quick paced and easy to read. If you’re a reluctant reader, or have a reluctant reader in your life, this will be a great book to read.

I gave it 4/5 stars and highly recommend it! It’ll also be great in a classroom library if you’re a teacher (grades 8-12). This book was really good!

Title: When We Make It

Author: Elizabet Velasquez

Publication Date: September 21, 2021

Genre: YA, Hispanic & Latino

Buy it here: Bookshop.org, Amazon

What novel in verse book have you read lately?


Nessa D.

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