When a guy in his class looks at him funny, Diego punches him in the face, and ends up on probation. At first, he wants nothing to do with his probation officer. But as Diego starts to talk, he begins to realize that Mr. Vidas is the first person in his life who ever really wanted to listen to him. With Vidas’s help, Diego begins to make real progress in controlling his anger. He even opens up enough to tell Vidas about the shark tooth that his stepfather gave him that he uses to cut himself. But only if Diego can find the courage to trust Vidas with the darkest secrets from his past will he be able to heal completely.
In this bold story of a boy trying to grow beyond a painful past, award-winning author Alex Sanchez calls upon his personal experience as a probation officer to reveal the complexities of one of his most genuinely realized characters to date.
Honors and Awards:
Florida Book Award Gold Medal for Young Adult Fiction
Tomas Rivera Mexican-American Children's Book Award
Read the praise (warning: reviews contain "spoilers"):
from School Library Journal (starred review!): Gr:7 Up–Diego MacMann is in trouble. At 16, he faces juvenile court, charged with assault. He just can’t control his fists, especially when he feels that his masculinity is threatened. Anger-management classes have failed, and now this earnest young man teeters between self-loathing and defensive pride. Hope comes unexpectedly when he establishes a bond with Mr. Vidas. The probation officer asks questions that challenge Diego to examine his motivations and his emotional life. How does he feel about his absent birth father? The stepfather who committed suicide? The gay student who looked at him “that way” just before Diego punched him out? The third-person narrative keeps readers one step ahead of Diego as he unravels the effects of abandonment, poverty, and sexual abuse on himself and his struggling family. During the short sessions with Mr. Vidas, he finds some of the tools and insights he needs to navigate his rocky passage to maturity. Unlike most recent fiction that addresses sexual abuse, this story focuses not on the telling of secrets, but on making sense of the experience and building a healthy foundation for moving forward. This groundbreaking novel brings to life an appealing young man who is neither totally a victim nor a victimizer, one who struggles to handle conflicts that derail many young lives. Teens will identify with Diego’s dreams and frustrations, his feeling of difference, his yearning for “normal” life and relationships. High interest and accessible, this coming-of-age story belongs in every collection. For the one in six boys who is sexually abused, it could be a lifesaver.–Carolyn Lehman, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA
from Publishers Weekly: "...an authentic and tender story about a boy trying to cope after years of sexual abuse. Diego's stepfather molested and raped Diego for years—something Diego alone knows, now that his stepfather has committed suicide. To deal with his anger and pain, Diego cuts himself with a sharp shark's tooth and strikes out violently against his peers, landing him in court. Only when he is paired with a sympathetic probation officer can Diego finally admit his secret. ...Sanchez does a masterful job explaining the protagonist's complicated emotions as he deals with his past. He worries that the abuse will turn him into a molester or make him gay—and he is angry and afraid when he finds out that the probation officer he trusted is gay. He even feels grief when he finally is able to say good-bye to the stepfather who abused him. All in all, this is a careful examination of a much neglected topic. Ages 12–up.