Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood



By: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
“Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood is our American Graffiti. No, that’s not right. It’s our Mexican Graffiti.” —Denise Chavez
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Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood Teaching Guide

“Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood is our American Graffiti. No, that’s not right. It’s our Mexican Graffiti.” —Denise Chavez

The Hollywood where Sammy Santos and Juliana Ríos live is not the one on the West Coast, the one with all the glitz and glitter. This Hollywood is a tough barrio at the edges of a small town in southern New Mexico. The year is 1969 and Sammy and his fellow citizens of Hollywood attend Las Cruces High School where they face a world of racism, dress codes, the war in Vietnam and the everyday violence of their own barrio. In the summer before his senior year begins, Sammy falls in love with Juliana, a girl whose tough veneer disguises a world of hurt.

In Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood, Benjamin Alire Sáenz captures the essence of what it meant to grow up Chicano in Smalltown America in the late 1960s. He creates a cast of characters that embody humor, toughness, innocence and survival —and in doing so, he evokes the bitter-sweet ambience found in such novels as Larry McMurtry's The Last Picture Show.

"The first thing the dead do is lose their voices. But they have their ways of making us listen. Maybe the dead need those of us who made it out alive to go out into the streets and tell everyone what happened. Maybe they want us to do more than tell. Maybe they want us to shout. Maybe they want us to point fingers. Maybe they want us to tell anyone who'll stop and listen that once, the world was theirs, too. Maybe they won't leave us alone until we say their names out loud again and again and again."—Sammy Santos
Teachers:

This book offers an opportunity for rich theme-based discussions. Educator Helen Buchanan created this teacher's guide to be used in the classroom. The story allows students to learn from Sammy as he experiences some of life's difficult transitions which include: first love, friends moving, high school graduation, heartbreak, personal sense of loss, issues of alienation, and the death of both family and friends.

Awards and Accomodations

Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults, 2005, Young Adult Library Services Association
TAYSHAS High School Reading List, 2005-2006
Pennsylvania School Librarians Association YA Top Forty
NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature, Finalist
Finalist, L.A. Times Book Prize
Capital Choices List Noteworthy Books, 2005
Bulletin Blue Ribbons List, 2004
Americas Award, 2004
ALA 2009 Outstanding Books for the College Bound

16 reviews for Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood

  1. Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
    Sammy’s first-person narration, observant and self-aware, affords a window into a world of quiet despair and stubborn hope, set appropriately against the backdrops of late-1960s social ferment … His message is one of victory through endurance rather than escape.

  2. Booklist
    The tough but caring family, neighbors, and friends speak in authentic dialogue liberally laced with Spanish that adds texture to the story, and an empathetic teacher and a stand against the school dress code provide a small victory to help Sammy weather the racism and poverty that fuel his emotions and his losses.

  3. Horn Book
    Written in a poetic first-person voice that incorporates some Spanish into the narrative, Sammy’s story of love, loss, and strong family ties is hard to forget.

  4. School Library Journal
    Saenz provides the Mexican-American teen with a voice that is genuine and compelling, realistic in its limitations and nuances as he comes to grips with the death of Juliana, his first love, and the increasingly complex demands and needs of his remaining friends, as well as of his family and neighbors … This is a powerful and authentic look at a community’s aspirations and the tragic losses that result from shattered dreams.

  5. San Antonio Current
    Sáenz’ has an ear for dialogue—not just the idiosyncratic phrases and expressions that characterize the residents of Hollywood, but also the way that Sammy narrates his tale, in a poetic, lyrical manner that begs to be read out loud and shared with others, placed in the hands of anyone who’s ever struggled with the confusion, loss, and contradictions that come with saying goodbye.

  6. San Antonio Express-News
    You will find no superfluous writing here, only the raw talk of a young Chicano struggling with ethical, religious and emotional challenges. The imagery is so vivid, you’ll find yourself searching your mind for your own memory, a similar situation in a similar space and time.

  7. Miami Herald
    The gritty details about drugs, sex, domestic violence, the liberal doses of Spanglish, even the profanity, make this story feel like an authentic portrayal of what it meant to be poor and Chicano in America in the 1960s.

  8. Children’s Literature
    This is a moving and convincing description of the confusions of the sixties, combined with the difficulties of growing up Mexican-American and poor… The love story, though over rather early in the book, is very sweet.

  9. KLIATT
    Set in the 1960s, the novel explores how the counterculture affected youth from a disenfranchised but still conservative background. The prose and plot have tremendous grace and emotional impact. YAs of today can relate. Excellent for cultural studies. Recommended for senior high school students.

  10. Letters from Students
    Set in the 1960s, the novel explores how the counterculture affected youth from a disenfranchised but still conservative background. The prose and plot have tremendous grace and emotional impact. YAs of today can relate. Excellent for cultural studies. Recommended for senior high school students. —Erika De Santiago

    The most important thing I liked about it was that even though Juliana was dead, you still mention her throughout the book. I enjoy that. It was important to not just forget her. Gigi was my favorite character. She was great: a very strong girl; fearless of things. Her character just made me want to act it out: so intense, so real. I was feeling her. —Jennifer Garcia

    In conclusion, so far this has been one of the best book I’ve ever read. I would like for more authors to write books like this. When I was reading the book I couldn’t let it go, I just wanted to keep reading it. Even though the end was really sad because almost everyone died, and Sammy had to take care of Elena and Mrs. Apodaca’s daughter. Even my teacher cried at the end. —Daniela Muniz

  11. El Paso Times
    Sáenz captures a life that, despite its specific era, seems timeless and relevant to the current age. He engages a range of contemporary issues like addiction, bigotry and sexuality, and his prose never flinches, even when the reader must. Honest and heartfelt, this is an extraordinary book.

  12. Albuquerque Journal
    Sammy just isn’t on the cusp of manhood, he’s on the edge of an often violent and frustrating world that demands difficult choices and sacrifice. And Sáenz’s lyrical prose provides the soundtrack to that tumultuous life born of a small town barrio.

  13. Michigan Reading Journal
    Please do yourself and your students a favor and search for this beautiful work of art … Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood deserves top billing in our school libraries. Find it! Buy it!

  14. El Paso Inside & Out Magazine
    Like a ballerina whose graceful dancing effortlessly belies her athleticism, Saenz writes as if he is merely documenting the lives of a small segment of America, lifting the cover for us to peer down on the struggles of this group of young adults as they play out before us.

  15. Paper Tigers
    The ultimate message is how hope and memory combine to free even the most tormented soul. Readers who speak Spanish will enjoy the juxtaposition of two languages throughout the novel.

  16. AudioFile
    Gritty as the unforgiving New Mexican desert, Sammy’s story makes compelling listening for older teens.

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