Driving into El Paso, Texas, at night on I-10W remains a glorious sight to behold.
Driving in at night there are no borders to obscure the city lights of El Paso and the lights of Ciudad Juárez from coalescing to pepper the night sky in a blanket of pin lights over the Southwest expanse and the Franklin mountains.
During the day, driving on I-10 through El Paso the view is a much different sight. But it is also glorious in its own way because you are able to see how much and how little separates the two countries. People who live in the area, despite all the negative news coverage, have always known that there is more of a sister relationship between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez.
People who know the area also understand El Paso in a special way, which is exactly what readers get in Barely Missing Everything by Matt Mendez.
Barely Missing Everything follows the lives and experiences of best friends Juan and JD. Juan hopes to make something of his life with a basketball scholarship while JD hopes to become a filmmaker. Of course, things are never as easy as just wanting something to happen, and Mendez masterfully paints the contrasts and contradictions of life in a border city—the appreciation for the culture, the disparity of economic levels, and the bias that still exists in a place where people of color are the very fabric of the area.
In the novel, things quickly go southwest when Juan and JD attend a party in the rich part of town and find themselves in a wrong place/wrong time situation where they are chased by the police and the bias against poor Mexican kids surfaces.
Juan caught his breath and watched as JD tried to make the jump. From on top Juan could see the broken-up party: police cars surrounding Danny’s, partygoers spilling into the front yard and being directed to leave. Of course. None of them had guns pointed at their chests. None of them were going to be handcuffed. None of them were going to jail. (33).
This bias is also exposed in a conversation between Juan, who is now injured along with failing algebra, and his coach.
“I’ve been working harder,” Juan said, trying to remember where his algebra book even was.
“Bullshit, Mrs. Hill says you solve for x like illegals pay taxes. You don’t go to tutoring, either.”
“Tutoring is during practice,” Juan protested. Mrs. Hill held tutoring during zero period, between the hours of way-too-early and I-got-shit-to-do. “When am I supposed to go?”
“You trying to tell me you can’t find some smart kid who’ll tutor you? I bet the popular basketball star can find someone.”
“I guess.” Like always, Coach didn’t get it, mistaking talent for popularity like he mistook running around on the basketball court for good offense. Like he mistook shitty jokes for funny. (73).
The book is rich with heart and tension, with conflict and cariño, and it blends in Mexican moments of culture and experience that will take many readers into their own lived reality:
Twenty minutes later making his way up Piedras Street, he walked past Gussie’s Tamales and Bakery. There was a line out the door, old ladies and groups of kids from the neighborhood holding empty pots for menudo to be poured into. He could smell the pan dulce as he went by. He was starving, but had no cash for an empanada or marranito. (42–43).
A marranito and an empanada are exactly what I get when I go into a panaderia, and when I think of life in El Paso and a story that pulls at your head and heart, Barely Missing Everything will be right there with me.
And, also in the book, Chico’s Tacos. Ask any El Pasoan.
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Michael Méndez Guevara is a former high school journalism and English teacher who spent his time in the classroom helping students see themselves as writers and fall in love with reading through the world of young adult literature. As an educational sales consultant with Perfection Learning®, Michael works with teachers and schools on improving their literacy instruction and providing resources to help students achieve academic success. He has taught elementary school, middle school, and high school and has worked as a district level leader and served on the Texas state standards revision committee that developed the state’s current literacy standards. He is the father of three adult sons, the youngest a student at the University of Kansas—Rock Chalk! Michael is working on a professional development book for literacy educators and currently has agents reading the manuscript of his young adult novel, The Closest Thing to a Normal Life. When he's not reading, writing, or running, Michael is fully committed to watching as much Law & Order as possible.