‘The First Rule of Punk’ by Celia C. Pérez

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez

A huge thanks to Viking Books for Young Readers, for accepting my request to review this title via NetGalley.

“I like to think of us as more like patchwork quilts,” Mrs Hidalgo said. “Some pieces are prettier than others. Some pieces match and some don’t. But if you remove a square, you’re just left with an incomplete quilt, and who wants that? All our pieces are equally important if they make us whole. Even the weird ones.” 

‘Dad says punk rock only comes in one volume: loud.’

Malú’s dad owns a record store, so he should know. Him and Malú share a passion for punk music, but their love isn’t understood by Malú’s mum. She just wishes Malú would embrace her Mexican side a little more, instead of rejecting half of her background.

We meet Malú – Maria Luisa – the night before her and her mother move to Chicago for two years. Her mum has been offered a job as a visiting professor, and it’s only for two years, it’s not like it’s forever. It feels that way to Malú, though. She can’t bear the thought of being the new kid. She doesn’t want to leave her father, his record store where she helps out, or his dog, Marti.

But she hasn’t got a choice, and despite making a heartfelt plea in the form of one of her zines, the two of them still relocate. Malú decides to make a statement on the first day of school, wearing heavy eye make-up despite her mother’s protests. This gets her in trouble with the principal, and causes tension to erupt between her and Selena, one of the girls in her class.

Malú feels like an outsider, and she doesn’t fit in. Selena harasses her on a daily basis, and the principal is constantly stopping her for minor dress code infractions. The Fall Fiesta talent show presents Malú with the perfect opportunity to show Selena what she’s made of. Grabbing her neighbour’s grandson and two other students, Malú’s band, The Co-Co’s, is born.

But the principal refuses to let them play in the talent show, saying that they aren’t “traditional” enough. Malú refuses to accept her decision. Instead, her and the rest of The Co-Co’s decide to host an anti-talent show show, featuring all the acts that the principal discriminated against. Selena discovers their plot, though, and suddenly the future doesn’t look so bright for The Co-Co’s…

This little book has a big heart. Exploring identity, culture and the meaning of fitting in, ‘The First Rule of Punk’ will appeal to anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider. Malú doesn’t believe that she can be Mexican and punk. It’s not until she meets people like her that she learns to embrace both sides.

This book has universal appeal despite being primarily middle-grade. I can think of a couple of my university friends who might benefit from reading it! Any time you go through a big change in life, whether that be moving home or starting at a new school or workplace, you’ll have similar struggles to Malú. Although her and Selena argue, it doesn’t take her long to start feeling empathetic towards her arch-nemesis. Malú deals with things in a mature manner. She doesn’t have temper tantrums or sulk. It’s refreshing to encounter such a grown up protagonist in a middle-grade novel.

However, it’s difficult to tell when the book is set. Malú’s dad runs a record store. When she leaves for Chicago, he loans her his Walkman and makes her a mixtape on a cassette. However, later on Malú refers to emojis, sends selfies and listens to CDs. The contrast between the two is jarring. I know that people still listen to cassettes and that record stores are still popular, but the tone of the book feels older, too.

This is especially true when you consider Malú’s penchant for making zines. Riot grrrl zines – unquestionably punk – gained popularity in the 90s. Joe’s really interested in art, but he doesn’t know what a zine is. That would make sense if it was a newer concept, but seems like an oversight.

I really enjoyed ‘The First Rule of Punk’, and learnt a lot about Mexican culture. The zines featured throughout broke up the story nicely, adding a fun element that I’m sure looks amazing on the page. Although it was hard to figure out when it was set, I loved Celia C. Pérez’s writing and thought this was a very strong debut. I’m looking forward to reading more of her writing in the future.

If you want a fun, quick read with a strong moral, I can’t recommend ‘The First Rule of Punk’ enough! Fingers crossed we’ll get to read more from Malú in the future. I really want to find out what happens during her second year in Chicago.

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