Pig Park by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez is the story of how a community in Chicago, worn and struggling with job loss after the lard company that provided income to the town closes down, pulls together to build a pyramid that will potentially help bring people to visit Pig Park. Our protagonist and heroine, Masi Burciaga, takes on the effort of saving her town so that her family and her friends can all remain in Pig Park.
The plot is certainly attention-grabbing, even if its execution leaves quite a bit to be desired. The novel’s pacing is its biggest fault. The reader gets only about a page and a half of setting before being thrust into the conflict, which works in many different novels, but not in one that should be categorized as a literary young adult novel. The reader is immediately introduced to too many “quirky” characters at the town meeting, without yet having really gotten a handle on the protagonist. From then on, readers have to play catch up to keep characters straight as the story progresses. We do not get nearly enough information on any of the characters, either, just a few of their personality traits that border on cliché. In the few paragraphs that are devoted to expanding a bit on Masi’s history, there is a lot of telling as opposed to showing, which is at odds with the rest of the writing style.
The least believable aspect of the novel is how quickly the entire town agrees to build the pyramid, which is a dubious idea to get money for the town at best, and a money pit, at worst. Not a single person brings up some of the more serious concerns that would logically come to mind: where to get building supplies, who will build the pyramid, how the word will get out to the rest of the country, etc. All of these things are taken for granted, making the novel feel false from the very first chapter. It asks for readers to suspend too much of reality, too early on.
Although this is a book about a multicultural town, the author tries much too hard to give it ethnic flavor. This is where the borderline clichés begin. Every character is more of a caricature of a culture than someone believably alive. Even the protagonist is a cookie-cutter “Hispanic”. There is no real depth to this display of ethnicity, either. We get a few Spanish words sprinkled here and there arbitrarily and inconsistently, but the real meat of the different cultures is not there. We get gimmicks imbedded in language, not the real thing.
The novel is categorized as a young adult novel, but the writing feels more like it should be for middle grade. It is overly simplified and the conflicts that teenagers face are not adequately represented. The conflicts are more appropriate to younger readers.
There are many great novels for teens about multicultural communities out there, unfortunately this is not the best selection.