“The First Rule of Punk” by Celia C. Pérez is a book for young readers, but I don’t care! In my 26th year of life, this book is exactly what I needed to read.
When I was a tween, all of the characters in my favorite books were white and usually male. There’s Roy from “Hoot” by Carl Hiaasen, Stanley from “Holes” by Louis Sachar, and so on. I didn’t get to read a lot of books about girls, especially ones about girls that I could relate to, and as we all know, representation is important.
I do still love Jerry Spinelli’s “Stargirl” because it was my introduction into nonconformity and being yourself. As a bookish brown girl that wasn’t listening to the same rap and Mexican music as her peers, I felt pretty left out. “Stargirl” made me feel like that was okay. I didn’t have to be like everyone else. I can’t even imagine what I would’ve done or felt like as a tween had I read Pérez’z book about a punk-loving brown girl.
The main character, Malú, is a not a señorita; she’s a zine-making punk that loves books and art and wearing clothes that her mother deems unladylike. When she is forced to move to Chicago (where I live!) with her mom who has a visiting fellowship at a university, she expects the worst. Who can blame her? She leaves behind her punk dad, who is her source of encouragement, wisdom, and music recommendations, for an unknown world of Midwestern, Mexican charm.
In Chicago, Malú finds it difficult to fit in at school because of all the rules it has—dress codes especially. She also happens to come across a mean girl by the name of Selena. On top of that, Malú’s mother, as always, tries her best to get her to be more of a señorita and less punk. The only comfort she finds is in Mrs. Hidalgo, a punk-loving, vegan treat-making mom and owner of a cool coffee shop called Calaca. As it turns out, Mrs. Hidalgo’s son, Joe, also goes to school with Malú and they eventually become friends through the thing that unites us all: music and art.
Malú and Joe, along with new friends Benny and Ellie, form a punk band with the hopes of performing at the school’s talent show. Trouble arises when the band isn’t chosen to perform because of their non-traditional sound. The band decides to form an anti-Fall Fiesta Talent show where they and anyone else that didn’t make it to the school’s talent show can perform. Malú has find a way to blend her American and Mexican cultures, as well as understand who she and her mother are in order to pull all of it off successfully.
What I love about this book is that it deals with the theme of staying true to yourself while confronting the issues that arise from living with two cultures. Malú is half white, half Mexican. Her dad has taught her about records, music, and what it means to be punk—all the things she actively loves. Her mom, on there other hand, would like Malú to be more connected to her Mexican side by speaking more Spanish, trying the folkloric dance Selena and her mom do, and over all getting to know her history. Even for people who are not half white, the mere fact that we live with one culture and live in the USA gives us that bi-culture struggle. Not fully one, but not fully the other.
However, Pérez gives us Mrs. Hidalgo who is a fantastic embodiment of the balance that can be achieved between two cultures. She has tattoos, dyed hair, and loves punk, something her mother, Señora Oralia, and others see as American. But, as she helps Malú discover, there are many Mexicans in the punk world making music and other Mexicans that make art, including the man Malú’s school is named after, José Guadalupe Posada. This realization is what leads Malú and her band, the Co-Cos (a play on the term “coconut” which means “brown on the outside, white on the inside”) to perform a punk version of “Cielito Lindo” by Lola Beltrán.
Even though I am not the intended audience, “The First Rule of Punk” definitely left me feeling inspired. It reminded me of my younger self who used to listen to the Clash, read banned books, and write in notebooks. I lost a lot of that young person as I grew because I didn’t have anyone to share books or music with me like Malú had her dad and Mrs. Hidalgo. I stopped writing because I wasn’t reading books by people like me and didn’t think it was possible for a person like me to even be a writer. Who would want to write, let alone read a book about a Mexican girl?! I’m not only taking inspiration from Malú and her zines, which serve as a great way to share information as Malú perceives it throughout the book, but I’m also taking inspiration from the author herself. Pérez put a lot of her background into this book and I’m so glad she did because now other girls like us will get to read it and see themselves represented in a book.
I’m giving this book 5 our of 5 stars!