By: Robert Renteria
Publisher: Writers of the Round Table Press Inc.
Publication Date: August 2010
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: January 2011
When Robert was born he was brought home to a spartan, roach infested apartment where he was placed in a dresser drawer for safekeeping. His parents were “factory laborers,” who had little to offer him. Even the food they ate was cooked on a hot plate. His mother struggled to survive after her husband left and cleaning toilets was certainly not beneath her. After pawning and selling everything of value to support his drug addiction, the only legacy he left his wife and child was a pile of bills and empty booze bottles. When Robert’s mother became too pregnant to work, an eviction notice forced them to move in with his grandparents. East Los Angeles was not the most desirable place to raise children, but she had no choice.
Robert’s new home had love, but he had to sleep in the basement “on a dirty, smelly mattress on the floor.” Even as a five-year-old he knew how to work and collected soda bottles, bottles that would provide a bit of money to help out his mother. For a while there were those food stamps, but he was grateful for anything he had. There were “lots of beans and tortillas” that made their way onto the table. Beans, beans, and more beans, but hey, beans and weenies aren’t that bad are they? There was one bad thing and that was the accident. When he was six-years-old a carnival ride smashed his skull in. He’d survived everything else, but this was serious.
The doctor claimed that “he could be mentally challenged or a vegetable,” but Robert was not the type of boy to give up. He struggled, he worked hard on his physical therapy … there was no way anything or anyone could dampen his spirit. The road to recovery was long and his challenges seemed never ending. He even had a drunken stepfather who used him “as a punching bag.” Robert worked several jobs when he was a teenager, but dropped out of school and “ran with a bunch of guys who only wanted to drink and party.” His loving grandfather bluntly said to him, “You are just running your life in circles, like a dog chasing its tail. You have an opportunity to be anything you want in life.” He asked him to leave L.A. Could a kid from the barrio ever amount to anything? He knew the meaning of hard work, but was it enough? Would anyone take a chance on him?
This fascinating graphic novel is based on the book, From the Barrio to the Board Room. Told in a down-to-earth, conversational style it has a few lessons to impart to its young readership, but is not at all preachy. According to Renteria, it really doesn’t matter where you come from if you truly want to succeed in life. The preface to the book has one simple sentence that sums up what he wishes to say to his audience: “Don’t let where you come from dictate who you are, but let it be part of who you become.” This biographical novel would be best suited as a teaching tool in a homeschool or classroom setting where it can be read and discussed. It is more than a rags to riches business book in that Mr. Renteria truly wants to reach out to all young people in an effort to show them they too are worth more than what their environment dictates they should be. The black and white artwork is superb and meshes perfectly with the tale, a tale that will resonate with all young people who want to make something of themselves.
Quill says: If you want a graphic novel that teaches your young adult or students about the value of hard work and entrepreneurship, this is one you should definitely add to your list!