In a startling beginning to her novel Becoming Beatrix, Tami Charles introduces the reader to Beatrix when she spots a wishmaker flower in a crack of the sidewalk as she thrusts her body to the ground and presses her face to the pavement. Her wishing will not take away the turf war that leaves her brother Junito dead and her mother mute in grief. Nor will wishing assuage her guilt for what has happened or take away her feeling of responsibility to her brother’s gang.
In 1984 New Jersey, Beatrix almost loses track of her own dreams afterwards of becoming a dancer and meeting her idol Debbie Allen on the set of her TV show Fame. Adding to her torn feelings, Beatrix tries to hide her involvement in the gang from her feisty Abuela, who arrives from Puerto Rico, believing she and her brother are still the “same good kids skipping rope and singing songs back in Aguadilla.”
The ACT-SO arts contest put on by the NAACP restores Beatrix’s desire for dancing and adds complications as she is pulled to care for her mother, to attempt to extricate herself from the gang, and to hone her dancing skills back to a competitive level. Since she is fifteen, there is also romance in the picture, complicated by the fact that the boy is Haitian, like their rival gang.
The book is engaging and readable. The likeable Beatrix gives the reader understanding without ever becoming didactic about how easily one can get caught up in the drug culture and how difficult it is to leave.