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We all have stories, some stories more raw and brutal than others. In his new graphic novel based on his book From the Barrio to the Board Room, author Robert Rentería has a story of struggle and success that should be shared to anyone who believes in the principles of hard work, education, and determination. Mi Barrio, Rentería’s new graphic novel published by SmarterComics, achieves just that—a testament to Rentería’s life story—yet fails on its delivery to the younger readers Renetería is targeting.

Yet before Rentería’s story rambles into tedium (not the actual events, just how the story was told), the beginning of the graphic novel has promise. The first three pages set Rentería’s early childhood in East Los Angeles during the 60s. The prose and images are simple, yet powerful. The premise and scenery have been brilliantly introduced, and the reader has been prepared to dive into the rest of Rentería’s tale.

Unfortunately, the rest of the story’s arc misses the mark.

Author Robert Rentería

Almost immediately drug use tales appear and later stories of drunken behavior and sex begin to surface. The taboos are boundless, that most school districts in California—a key market for this type of book—couldn’t even stock the graphic novel in their libraries, let alone distribute to students. Rentería does have a curriculum for schools, yet we would think having a book being read in some schools would cause problems.

Telling real stories about struggle and success can be inspiring. However, the story’s impact loses it punch rather quickly with scenes that rambles, prose that tells and not shows, information that is lost in and limited the graphic novel, and black-and-white illustrations that lack edge and pizazz.

We feel that even though the graphic novel just doesn’t deliver (it feels to us like it needed about 20-30 pages edited for quicker pacing and storytelling), Rentería’s story is an amazing one. Maybe he should explore a video or performance art piece that could make his message—a rather important one—more alive.

Like a 30-second YouTube video, YA authors and graphic novelists need to grab their readers instantly. Rentería’s beginning indeed delivers, but that powerful and honest voice that starts the graphic novel gets muddled and muted throughout the rest of the story. The result is a flat didactic story that although true, will ring hollow due to lack of execution.

We hope that the schools that use this graphic novel are actually benefitting it and enjoying it. Perhaps they can tell us that we were wrong about Mi Barrio. We would be cool with that, knowing that one of the hardest things in the world to do in writing is to write for YA readers.

We wish Rentería all the luck in the world. His story is a MUST HEAR. Let’s hope his passion proves us wrong about Mi Barrio.

FTC Disclosure: We received this book free from the publisher as part of a Condor Book Tour. We were not required to write a positive review. The opinions we have expressed are our own. 

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