Fight? No, Jazz Owls only want to dance, by Margarita Engle, art by Rudy Gutierrez (book review)

book cover of Jazz Owls: a Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots / Margarita Engle; art by Rudy Gutierrez. Atheneum Books, 2018 | recommended on BooksYALove.com

Smile and dance and don’t make trouble,
Keep up servicemen’s morale at the USO,
War is overseas and in their own neighborhood!

“The musicians call us owls
because we’re patriotic girls
who stay up LATE after working all day,
so we can DANCE with young sailors
who are on their way
to triumph
or death
on distant
ocean waves,” says 16-year-old Marisela in one of the first poems of Jazz Owls (p. 6)

But everyone of every race dancing together enrages some in power and “nothing sells newspapers as quickly as fear” brags an LA reporter (p. 32).

The papers’ sensationalized speculation questioned the true patriotism of non-whites and encouraged violence by sailors itching to get to war, creating a battle zone in Mexican-American neighborhoods where police blamed residents instead of their attackers.

Equal sacrifice demanded, unequal treatment before the law – how far have we come since 1942?
**kmm

Book info: Jazz Owls: a Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots / Margarita Engle; art by Rudy Gutierrez. Atheneum Books, 2018. [author site] [artist interview] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My Book Talk: During World War II, everyone works – from abuelas with their victory gardens to young women dancing with servicemen before their deployment – but all citizens are not equal, and many powerful people want to keep it that way.

‘English only’ at the cannery, or teen sisters Marisela and Lorena will lose their jobs, be trapped at home with Mama, not allowed to do their patriotic duty by dancing with sailors at the USO club.

Because Nico is serving overseas (somewhere), little brother Ray must accompany his ‘jazz owl’ sisters to and from the USO, pachuco strutting in his wide-shouldered zoot suit.

Afro-Cuban drummer Manolito brings hot Caribbean rhythms into jazz, dances with Marisela, only she keeps him from leaving this hate-filled place to the fake Cuban musicians.

Fame-hungry LA reporters twist facts, sensationalize truth, fan flames of suspicion that Mexican-Americans might be enemies instead of citizens, that jazz musicians are dangerous.

Told in poems by many voices over a year’s time, starting with the Sailor Riots against zoot suiters in 1942, Jazz Owls shows how the fear of Others splintered an American city which needed to stay united during wartime.

What do you think?

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