The Number on My Father’s Arm / El número en el brazo de papá

Piñata Bks. Oct. 2020. 168p. pap. $11.95. ISBN 9781558859012.
Gr 6 Up–Many stories get omitted from American history. Alvarado brings readers this rarely told tale about a Mexican American boy during World War II. Seventeen-year-old Tomás lives with his mami and papi in Southern California during the 1950s. His father, Eliseo, suffers from PTSD, and past traumas cause him to withhold information about his experiences. As the story progresses, readers observe Tomás maturing, developing compassion, and growing desperate to learn more about his father: what happened to him, and what the tattooed numbers on his arm mean. Tomás can’t help recalling his seventh grade teacher, Mrs. Franklin, doing a unit on the Holocaust and accusing him of lying about his father being in World War II because he’s Mexican. After years of waiting to hear his father’s story, Tomás will discover if he himself is ready to bear that knowledge. Inspired by the real life of Anthony Claude, Alvarado explores difficult topics of bias, racism, mental illness, and family relationships. There are some gruesome parts of Eliseo’s past (he was tortured, for example), but the novel sheds light on an important, often overlooked moment in history.
VERDICT Alvarado compares the evils of war and oppression, and how they manifest in current times. This powerful novel is a great reminder for mature readers that there is much to American culture that gets left unsaid and erased.

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