Jazz Owls: A Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots

by Margarita Engle and Rudy Gutierrez

Most of this novel-in-verse recounting what happened before, during, and after what... read more

Most of this novel-in-verse recounting what happened before, during, and after what are unfortunately known as the Zoot Suit Riots is told through the eyes of three members of one family: Ray, 12, when the story begins, and his older sisters Marisela,14, and Lorena, 16. A patriotic family with an older brother fighting in the war, their identity as proud Mexican Americans is at odds with those who see them and as Mexican only. Marisela is a “jazz owl” who spends her evenings dancing with sailors. Ray, too, loves to dance, while Lorena is focused on education. The 1943 riots are fueled by tensions after the conviction (overturned two years later) of a group of Latino men for murder. The riots were started by U.S. sailors attacking young Zoot Suit-wearing Mexican Americans, whom the police pursued and media blamed. In the aftermath, Ray, who was humiliated by the police, pursues dance with greater intention. Marisela, working in a war plant, becomes a strike organizer and also longs to marry the Cuban drummer she is in love with, but he’s classified as white and mixed marriage is illegal. Lorena takes a job at an airplane plant, dreams of learning to fly, and finds a way to proudly affirm her Mexican American identity when she protests a factory Beauty Contest. An author’s note provides more context for the tensions of the times. (Age 12 and older)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2019

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