Thursday, June 28, 2012


Rodriguez, Luis J. It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way: A Barrio Story/No tiene que ser así: Una historia del barrio. Illus. Daniel Galvez. San Francisco: Children’s Book Press, 1999. ISBN: 978-0-89239-161-5. $31.19. 

Luis J. Rodriguez is a bestselling author, journalist, poet, and an ex-gang member dedicated to helping children stay away from gangs. He conducts workshops, readings, and talks in prisons. Rodriguez has published more than a dozen books all related to changing the lives of children. He also was interviewed on NBC-LA’s “Nonstop News LA” with Collen Williams about his most recent book It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing.

I liked It Doesn't Have to be This Way because of its main character: a boy named Monchi who could be involved in serious problems had he not finally made good choices in his life. Throughout the story, the reader sees Monchi makes some bad choices until a tragic event changes the course of his life. The words Monchi's uncle Rogelio says to him, “It doesn’t have to be this way,” express the difficult but necessary decision Monchi makes to change his life after his cousin Dreamer almost dies in a gang-related shooting.

The main objective of this book is to advise students of the consequences when teenagers are involved in gangs. The moral message in the story is that people always have a choice to decide to act in their own benefit or to act in ways that benefit others around them. The author uses simple language to explain to children how easy it is to be involved in gangs and how important it is to analyze all perspectives in our decisions. The most important points conveyed are to pay attention to those who are our real friends, to learn how to decide the best course of action for ourselves, and to appreciate when someone wants the best for us.

In my opinion, this book is an excellent tool to explain to students the consequences of being part of a gang just to fit in where they live. The book narrates the story in two languages, English and Spanish. The language used through the book and the pictures in it clearly depict the real situations some children face in order to be accepted in their social context. I highly recommend this book to all educators who wish to promote informed decision-making in their students. The author uses real language and describes the atmosphere.

Martha Graciela Salmeron

This review is part of the Special Section: Books in Spanish, featuring a collaboration with Policy and Language Studies students at San Diego State University. Read more about it here.

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