A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
One Sentence Review: A sweet YA romance about a group of kids who want to make something of themselves via a dance competition.
This review contains what could be considered spoilers
Alvaro Torres is a teenager with man-sized problems: his dad bailed, his mom’s a shut-in, and his teacher at Our Lady of Providence School for Boys thinks Alvaro and his buddies are punks headed for a minimum-wage future. It doesn’t look like anything’s going to change until Candelario Carlisle transfers in and arouses Alvaro’s protective instincts… among other things.
When a bully threatens the pretty new kid, Alvaro takes Cande under his wing and into his fledgling dance group. Slowly, under Alvaro’s care and attention, the hard shell Cande has built around his heart begins to melt. The more involved they become, the more reluctant Cande is to add misery to Alvaro’s life, but Cande’s past could ruin the only opportunity these delincuentes have for a better life.
Something for Nothing is the first book by this author that I’ve read. I like a good YA romantic tale, and though not without niggles, for the most part I think I got it.
Alvaro, Kiki and Leo are best friends, seniors at Our Lady of Providence School for Boys in Los Angeles. A tight clique, it is often them against everyone else, and when they aren’t in school, they are practicing a dance routine for an upcoming talent competition that could lead to national recognition. Enter the new kid at Our Lady, Cande, for whom Alvaro immediately has eyes. After Cande’s first day of school, he is bullied for money he doesn’t have, and Alvaro comes to the rescue, taking Cande home with him to clean him up after. Alvaro lives in a small apartment with his socially-withdrawn mother, who has been that way since Alvaro’s father left them almost a decade ago, leaving him to just about raise himself and take care of her. Bringing the vulnerable, yet strong Cande into the fold and the dance troupe, as well as adoring sophomore Eligio, the five boys try to put together a routine that will win them first-prize at the festival and make all of their dreams come true. In the meantime, Alvaro tries to convince the distrustful and cynical Cande that he wants him in his life now and forever, and change is in store for all five boys.
My overall feeling was that this was an unexpectedly sweet YA with themes of trust, friendship, family, and hard work paying off, and as such, I feel like the blurb is a bit misleading. From reading it, I expected tough-ish delinquents in the barrio, making trouble, living in poverty, and fighting for a way to get out, but that’s not what this is. I even thought my expectation would be met by reading the first few pages, but what we’re watching is through the eyes of one of the jaded and tired teachers. It’s actually at-times saccharin story about decent, polite, mostly lower-income kids who are perceived as good-for-nothings by some of the adults around them, the romance between them, and the dance group they form as they work their way toward hopeful stardom in a talent competition. What this meant is that some of the conflict and much of the grittiness I had anticipated never materialized, and in fact, the story is virtually conflict-free and focuses on the romance and talent competition. The seemingly effortless way they make their way through the plot and any obstacles made me think that perhaps it was just too easy for these kids and it tested my disbelief suspension at times. For me, it ended up being almost too sweet, though this may be subjective. I also anticipated a Latino-centric story, but I feel I didn’t get that either; in fact, this story could have the names changed, the occasional Spanish slang removed, and a few minor details altered and it could be any urban-set location and the people any ethnicity.
What I liked:
I thought all of the lead characters were likable and acted realistically once I got past the fact that they weren’t going to be thugs. I liked that they worked hard to stay on the good and right path when they easily could have taken the easy road (as a few of them had as younger teens). Alvaro, who tries to be a better man because of his father’s failings and abandonment, came believably across as someone who has had to grow up before his time in order to take care of himself and his mother. Cande generally worked as a kid who, though not without some difficulties, had survived the foster care system and was suspicious and not-quick-to trust. Young Eligio was very sweet, brave in the face of the older teens who rib him and who became the glue holding the group together. But probably my favorite characters were Kiki and Leo, whose relationship, fun natures and easy banter charmed me, and the two of them often provided comic relief through the story. Actually, in some ways, they could have had a story devoted to themselves and I wouldn’t have minded at all.
What I didn’t:
Besides what I mentioned above, I had a few other issues:
Though it is told mostly from Alvaro’s POV, it isn’t always and I had some problems at times with the head-hopping, shifting third-person omniscient narrative as I didn’t feel it was smooth. I had to go back and re-read several paragraphs to see whose head I was in.
Something perhaps a little picky: sometimes you will find the title of the book in amongst the text once, and you can see from where the title is taken, but here the phrase is used eight times. I felt that it was overdone.
Something for Nothing would most likely appeal to fans of the author and those who like YA and/or sweet romances.