Score: 95+/100 (9.5+ out of 10)
Valiance by Vanessa Caraveo is not just another novel about someone with a disability. It's not just a novel about an inspirational student-athlete succeeding against all odds. It's not just a novel about a boy who is treated differently from all the other kids—a black sheep. This is a story about people.
It's a story about a prodigal older sister (Margarita) who is struggling to find her place in the world with all the attention and effort placed on her younger brother.
It's a story about a mother who, despite being an undocumented immigrant from Mexico selling fruit juices on a street corner, is trying to provide a stable life for her family and children.
It's a story about a father who is barely in the story, yet his relative absence speaks volumes until the very end of the book.
It's the story about a friend (Fernando) who sees the great person that the main protagonist, Diego, is despite his disability and his increasingly-reckless behavior.
It's the story of a girl (Seema) who believes she loves Diego yet is emotionally conflicted by the fact that Diego is still wrestling with his own feelings, his own relationship/social anxieties, and balancing his friendship with Fernando.
It's the story of a girl (Rebecca) who suffers from spina bifida and is able to deeply relate to Diego. Rebecca is the second example/representation we've seen of spina bifida this season, which is quite a special coincidence.
And, yes, it's also the story of people like Tommy, David, Sebastian, Leslie, and Coach Miller, all of whom also stand out as unique, touching Diego's life in one way or another, for better or for worse.
But, yes, this is also the story about a boy. A boy with a disability. A boy with a disability who thrives in class and dreams of becoming a professional soccer player like Simon Ollert, the German soccer player who is also deaf.
However, that's not all there is to Diego or his world. His world (primarily Sacramento, California), is full of colorful and interesting characters who all stand out in some way. Each and every character plays a role. Even Diego's eventual boss, a relatively minor character, feels real and unique (in the way he deals with problem customers). It feels so... real, alive, gritty, and lived in. This might be the most real-seeming fiction story we've read since Secrets in the Mirror.
Something that really helps this story is that no character is just a needless &$#hole for no reason. No character is just pure evil or wicked for the sake of being pure evil or wicked. No character is just corrupt or crooked for the sake of being corrupt or crooked. They all have the one key element that every character should have: MOTIVATION. They all have at least one want and one need.
For example, even a minor character like Sebastian Cliffe is motivated by a jealous crush on Diego's girlfriend. Margarita, sometimes a despicable sister/daughter, is motivated by the desire to feel as wanted, as important, and as “put together” as Diego.
They all just seem so alive.
And, perhaps, that's why this book is so emotional and sad. It's not sad because the main character has a disability. It's not sad because the family in the story is constantly on the verge of being “found out” and deported. It's sad because these people seem so real. They seem so alive. You almost feel like you can get to know these people, touch them, and talk to them. It's a special talent for a writer to produce characters who can seem that way.
This book does an amazing job at showcasing both that people with disabilities (especially deafness) can still function in society with relative normalcy. In fact, what's incredible is how the fact that the character is deaf isn't constantly pushed in the reader's face and shoved down their throat. It's very, very subtle. In fact, there are times Diego's deafness doesn't seem to be much of an issue at all, especially when he has the assistance of his hearing aid and when characters are considerate enough to learn to sign (or learn sign language).
This book really doesn't seem to be a book that just exploits a disability for the sake of adding emotional depth or stakes to a novel. The same with the topic of immigration. The WEIRDEST characters in this novel aren't the deaf/disabled ones. They're not the immigrants. The weirdest ones in the book are the ones born “normal” yet become monsters of their own creation. There are minor examples like this like David, who became radically Buddhist and Vegan at some point. Then, there's the big example of Margarita.
Margarita is really the most interesting character in this book. Despite being older than Diego and disability-free, she allows herself to be consumed with dark emotions that guide her to poor choices, even ones that threaten to get the family deported. Margarita made us cry on multiple occasions because she's a very sympathetic character. Her desperation oozes from the later pages. She is far from pure-evil or irredeemable. There are times when she shows Diego care and affection. There are times when she playfully teases him (like when he's going on his first date or getting his first car), yet there's an ere of jealousy and animosity in her tone. She is such a tragic character!
We definitely recommend you check this out on Amazon!
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