By Crystal Guest, Billie Jaso, and Ilka Jauregui
“One day back in middle school, a girl I didn’t know came up to me and said, ‘Jackie Delgado is going to kick your ass,’” Meg Medina recounts on her blog (2015). That simple statement would mark a dreadful turning point in Medina’s life, just as it would for her protagonist, Piddy, in her novel Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.
Meg Medina’s YA coming-of-age novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, follows Piddy Sanchez, a fifteen-year-old girl, as she moves with her mother into an apartment building in a new school district. After only five weeks attending her new high school, Piddy has earned the ire of a girl named Yaqui Delgado, and she doesn’t understand why. As Piddy is bullied at school and lives in fear of tomorrow, she struggles to maintain the secret of her bullying and her relationships with the people who mean the most to her. Nobody can understand why she is lashing out and falling behind in school, but for Piddy, her grades have taken a back seat to her survival. She weighs the consequences of keeping quiet or speaking out, but she has seen from her neighbors, the Halpers, that nothing happens when abuse is reported. It only gets worse. It is when her situation is at its bleakest that Piddy draws a parallel between her own situation and the domestically abused mother of her boyfriend and realizes she needs to make a choice that will save her future. Her mother’s question, “Who are you going to be?” (203) spurs her to make choices that will define who she is.
Piddy Sanchez grows and changes throughout the novel, beginning on the first page. She starts out an innocent and imaginative fifteen year old, who dreams of becoming a scientist who studies elephants, even though she thinks her mother would “nag about malaria and the smell of dung” (18). She daydreams about meeting the father she’s never seen or talked to and calls this “private game, . . . ‘Who’s Papi?'” (38). She achieves good grades in honor classes and her teachers like her.
As the bullying escalates, Piddy no longer smiles because it takes her “all day to calm down after seeing Yaqui” (124). She changes her physical appearance, plucking her eyebrows to look “expressionless and strangely vicious” (152) and thinks, “Piddy’s dead, Ma. Gone. Adios” (168). Through Piddy’s struggles, Medina confronts the alienating consequences bullying can have on young adults.
The novel forces Piddy to confront adult realities that she had never faced before. One of the recurring themes of the novel is misogyny. She is sexualized by her peers and shamed for her body’s changes. She is told by her mother, “You can’t go around with two loose onions in your shirt for all the boys to stare at” (3) and advised by her classmate, Darlene, to “practice walking normal. You know, a little less wiggly” (4). Piddy just wants to go to class, and she doesn’t care about the attention of Yaqui’s boyfriend, Alfredo, or appreciate the sexual harassment by boys in the schoolyard. Instead of embracing her outer beauty, she resents her curves because “they’ve caused nothing but trouble” (152). The only time Piddy feels safe is when she is with her childhood friend (and budding romance) Joey because “being with him helps [her] avoid weird men with staring problems” (176). The misogyny surrounding Piddy causes a crisis with her identity because she constantly worries about what others think of her, and she cannot be the person she wants to be.
Along with the loss of innocence comes Piddy’s disillusionment with her parents. When she discovers her mother isn’t as perfect as she’s let on through her conservative and prudish attitude, Piddy feels, “It’s like I don’t even know who she is” (69). When she finds out the truth about her father, she resolves never to play ‘Who’s Papi?’ again, instead mourning the death of a relationship she had hoped to someday nurture, and asks, “Did he ever really want me, Ma?” (203). This recurring theme of family has a significant impact on Piddy’s formation of her identity. It is when her mother asks “Who are you going to be?” (203) that Piddy realizes she doesn’t need a father to define who she is, and she chooses how to live her life.
Meg Medina, a Cuban-American, grew up in Queens, New York. She is a devoted advocate against bullying. She wrote Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass because she hoped it would “give [a] voice to what it’s like to find yourself targeted relentlessly” (Medina, Meg. Interview by Roberto Sanchez). In the opening scene of the novel, a student tells Piddy that, “Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass” (1). Sound familiar? There are several similarities between Piddy and Medina’s experiences. For two years a school bully ruthlessly targeted Medina. Like Piddy, Medina began to fear school, and bullying caused Medina and her character Piddy to change from being attentive students to skipping school and withdrawing from their friends and family. Medina began hanging out with dangerous people, trying to become tough so that no one could ever hurt her again.
Medina’s style effectively connects the reader to the characters. She engages the reader through an adolescent narrator’s first-person point of view, giving us a victim’s personal account of bullying and growing up. She does not shy away from foul language, embracing the casual language of teens, even in the title of the book. Medina utilizes Spanish to further make this novel relatable and realistic by code-switching the dialogue when Piddy’s mother or ‘aunt’ are speaking. In one instance, Piddy’s mother tells her, “A zero doesn’t mean something is hard, niña, it means you’re lazy. It means you’re not studying. Nada. ¡Que vergüenza!” (81). Piddy’s thoughts are interspersed between dialogue, and her inner turmoil is revealed to the readers, such as when she thinks to herself, “Wait… Who is Yaqui Delgado?” (1) after being threatened.
Like many Young Adult novels, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass portrays a loss of innocence, the importance of family and hope, a life changing event that forces the protagonist to ‘grow up,’ and a search for identity. The novel is aimed at ages 14+, but children in middle school would be able to relate to this novel with its simple structure and adolescent themes. It teaches readers of all ages a valuable lesson: Don’t let others tell you who you are; decide for yourself who you are going to be.
During our brief correspondence with Meg Medina, we asked her where the turning point was for her. She answered candidly, “I really don’t know what made me regroup. One thing is that I moved away from NYC to live with my father in MA. Getting out of the situation was probably a great thing. Somehow, I reconnected with school and getting good grades, probably at my father’s insistence. That was helpful, too, because it gave me options for afterward” (Medina, Meg. Interview by Crystal Guest). Medina sums up childhood succinctly: “growing up is one part mystery, one part hard work, and one part dumb luck…” (Medina, Meg. Interview by Crystal Guest), an idea that is reflected in Piddy’s journey throughout the novel. Growing up is not easy, and children’s environments and families can be just as important as children’s choices about their own destiny.
Medina, Meg. Interview by Roberto Sanchez. “Meg Medina: 2014 National Book Festival.” 2014 National Book Festival. Library of Congress. Podcast, 30 July 2014. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.
Medina, Meg. Personal Interview by Crystal Guest. 2015.
Medina, Meg. “Book, Bullying, and Compassion: A Book Event in RVA.” Author Meg Medina. N.p., 16 Mar. 2013. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.