She remembered West Phoenix as a place that she wouldn't drive through by herself. It was a poor area and the better schools were elsewhere. So she was surprised to see an underwater-robotics team coming out of that neighborhood. 'There aren't oceans in Phoenix,' she pointed out diplomatically. 'No, ma’am,' Lorenzo Santillan said. 'But we got pools.'"
"Spare Parts" is the 2016 selection for "Richardson Reads One Book." As such, it carries the burden of high expectations. Does it live up to recent prior selections?
- 2015: "We Are Called to Rise" C+
- 2014: "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore" B-
- 2013: "The Book Thief" A-
- 2012: "One Amazing Thing" C+
After the jump, my review.
"Spare Parts" departs from previous selections for the "Richardson Reads One Book" program in that it is a work of non-fiction. But it has the feel of a work of fiction, being character-driven and having a plot that leads up to a big climax.
"Spare Parts" follows the lives of four Hispanic students in a poor Phoenix high school robotics club working to compete in a national underwater remote-controlled vehicle competition against teams from prestigious universities like MIT. On one level, it's a formulaic sports story where the underdog challenges the overwhelming favorite. On that level, it's an inspirational and even suspenseful tale. Can these kids possibly win?
On another level, it's a polemic in favor of immigration reform. The Hispanic students are undocumented immigrants. Their parents brought them to the US from Mexico. Talented and hard-working as they are, deportation is a real fear. The country of their birth is at best a distant memory, yet they have no future in the country they live in — the only country they know. College and career are but a dream. On that level, it's an infuriating depiction of the national disgrace of our immigration policies.
So, back to "Richardson Reads One Book." "Spare Parts" is a lightweight read that hits above its weight class. The fact that it's non-fiction, that the hardships and dilemmas faced by the protagonists in this story are real and replicated millions of times in the US, gives this book a relevance well beyond its feel-good David vs Goliath premise. It's not great literature, but it just might hit home with some teens in Richardson and open the eyes of some adults.
"Spare Parts" is available in Kindle format from the Richardson Public Library. :-)
Correction: This article was updated with the correct book selection for 2015.