The First Rule of Punk

Celia C. Pérez

I am 100% biased with this book, as Celia is a longtime friend. But while it could be possible that I loved this solely from seeing Celia’s heart and humor within the narrative, she has been getting so much amazing feedback (including NPR interviews, shout outs from John Green, and this insightful extended review #humblefriendbrags) that it can’t just be my partiality at play.

The star of the book is Malú, who feels that she relates more to her punk rock father than her mother, who she calls “SuperMexican,” as her mom is so devoted to embodying her cultural heritage. When her mom gets a two-year academic job in Chicago, the two of them will need to leave Gainesville, Florida, for a while, meaning Malú will essentially be isolated with the parent she feels understands her less. Even after a last-ditch effort to make her case through a zine (Malú’s zines are a big part of the book, running amidst the text), they take off to Chicago.

Malú theoretically should fit in fine in her new school, which has more Latinx kids than her school in Gainesville, but since she doesn’t associate much with that part of her identity, it just makes her more frustrated. What I like and relate to about Malú as a character is she is not trying to fit in at all — but she wants to do that on her own terms. So it’s upsetting when the mean girl at school mocks her for not speaking Spanish well or even when her mom casually jokes about her not liking spicy food and cilantro. Yet she will dress however she wants and wear intense, punky makeup, and she will be entirely defiant if anyone looks at her strangely for those choices. After making some fellow outsider friends, Malú convinces them to start a band with her to play at the school talent show, except they are turned down for not being traditional enough, setting the stage for a breakthrough in bridging her identities.