Allison's Book Bag

Canned and Crushed by Bibi Belford

Posted on: March 24, 2016

By the time you finish Canned and Crushed, a middle-grade novel, the main character and the manic style will have won you over. Because finding a novel with a Hispanic protagonist had proved difficult during her teaching days, Belford drew on her experiences with children of migrant workers and with bilingual students to create a story about Sandro, whose father is an undocumented engineer working odd jobs while waiting for paperwork and whose mother is absent because she has taken his little sister to Mexico for medical treatment. Belford’s book covers a lot of issues, including unemployment, bullying, and prejudice, but contain so much charm and laughs that I enjoyed the ride.

Throughout the course of fourth grade, Sandro undergoes a transformation in character, which is largely what makes Canned and Crushed work. Initially, Sandro comes off as overwhelmingly cheerful and even a little pretentious. As I continued to read, however, vulnerabilities started to slip through his bravado and to reveal Sandro as a likeable and sympathetic character. Yes, he is a precocious eleven-year-old who is constantly explaining his large vocabulary to readers, but Sandro also likes to play soccer and to invent stuff, as well as a boy who gets in over his head when family and school life start to unravel. When his sister gets sick, he tries to raise money by convincing the principal to allow him to start a recycling program. At the same time as trying to juggle this responsibility, he’s also facing disciplinarian actions from his teacher and torment from a peer. This leads to some bad choices on Sandro’s part. How Sandro learns to turn around his life and to grow in self-awareness, despite extenuating circumstances, makes for a fast-paced story.

The manic style also left me initially uncertain of how to feel, but soon reeled me in and kept me hooked. Others have compared the blend of seriousness with humor to the likes of Joey Pigza and the Wimpy Kid series. For me, I find myself thinking of Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick. It’s not Belford’s style is anything like the latter, but that in both the character voice is so unique as to leave one both hesitant and impressed. To give you an example, consider lines such as: “So, you notice I’m standing in the hallway. Yes, I’m in trouble. You probably want to know why.” While it’s not unheard of for the narrator to address his readers, it is a more unusual technique. Once I got used to it, I found the style very personable and effective. Moreover, it seems the perfect style for a character whose point of view might not be completely reliable, but whom we need to thoroughly understand if we are to embrace him.

Given that I first encountered Canned and Crushed as a multicultural book reviewer, to wrap up my review, I’ll address how Belford’s novel works on the diversity level. Belford’s extensive experience in working with students of various cultures shows through in her compassionate portrayal of a dual-ethnicity family, where the father unintentionally ended up in America without the correct documentation. There’s no indication of the family trying to avoid this law, but rather the story is about issues that arise while they attempt to make their papers right. In addition, Belford also strikes a perfect chord in her exploration of how students of different cultures can like or dislike another, without race being the actual issue. When Sandro realizes that he’s being accused of prejudice, he acts just the way I’d expect the average young person to who is kind in heart.

As a first novel, Canned and Crushed has its flaws. At the same time, Belford has given readers a complex male Hispanic lead, something still too unheard of in literature. She’s also provided a lot of gentle lessons, as well as heart, to a creative story. I expect Belford to be around for a long time as an author in demand.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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