This book was not quite what I expected. It was wonderful, but what I expected was more of a romance, I guess, and while that was in the story, that’s not what it is. So don’t go into it expecting what I did!

That said, I was very impressed with what I think was Benjamin Alire Saenz’s first novel for young adults. Taking place mostly in 1969, it tells of life in a New Mexico barrio ironically named Hollywood, through the eyes of high school senior Sammy Santos. The novel begins with Sammy falling in love with tough girl Juliana, but the book as a whole, as I said, was not the romance I was expecting. Juliana is important to Sammy, but the story itself is Sammy’s, and is told in his distinctive voice.

I’m finding it difficult to give a good, complete summary of this book. It is what it is because of strong characters, the 1960’s setting, and awesome writing. SAMMY AND JULIANA IN HOLLYWOOD is an amazing story about love (romantic love, friendship, and love for family), loss, growing up as a Chicano, and, well, life, all set against a very 1960s backdrop of student protests, the draft, and loud music.

This is an outstanding novel. I found it a little difficult to get into at first, but I think that’s because I was expecting something lighter, and this is serious (and seriously brilliant), intelligent reading. To really get the full story, you need to sit down and read it in big chunks; it doesn’t work so well for a few pages here and there, or at least not for me. Go into it expecting it to be nothing different from what it is, and you will love this powerful, moving, and original novel.

Rating: 9.75/10