Tuesday, June 26, 2018
Teen Tuesday: Jazz Owls: a novel of the Zoot Suit riots by Margarita Engle
Jazz Owls: a novel of the Zoot Suit riots by Margarita Engle. Illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez. 179 p. Atheneum/ Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, May, 2018. 9781534409439. (Review from finished copy courtesy of publisher.)
Teen Tuesday features Jazz Owls: a novel of the Zoot Suit riots. This novel in verse is told from multiple points of view and dramatizes a little known (at least to me) event in 1943. Young sailors heading off to war spend their last nights on leave dancing with Jazz Owls, young, mostly Mexican American women who work long hours in the local cannery under harsh conditions; but who contribute to the was effort by entertaining the troops through the U.S.O. at night. The girls are accompanied by male relatives for protection. These men often wore baggy suits known as Zoot suits. This fashion statement, much like certain fashion statements of today, was used as an excuse for police to start targeting the men, especially after a murder. Then, the sailors began a rampage. It was ugly. It was racially motivated. And, sadly, seemed all too familiar.
I can always count on Engle to educate me by writing about historical events that did not make it into mainstream history books. While I was aware of the cannery workers' dangerous conditions and brave efforts to unionize; I had no knowledge of the riots.
The primary characters are siblings, Lorena, Marisela and Ray. Their brother, Nicolás is off fighting overseas. Lorena longs to save enough money to attend secretarial school, Marisela loves to dance and Ray longs to be old enough to go and fight. Other voices show different points of view from sailors to policemen to reporters (who are not, shall we say, objective) to Manolito, a musician from Cuba who falls in love with Marisela.
A lot happens in this brief, fast-paced novel. Readers will fly through the pages needing to find resolution. Hopefully, they will turn back to the beginning and reread to savor the language and the ink illustrations.
Jazz Owls is an important addition to any library.