Being guilty of “walking while Latino”
Raymond is a teenage boy who seems to have only one friend in school and that friend is about to move away. He is also a child of divorce. He lives primarily with his mother, stepfather, and three half-sisters, but he doesn’t exactly fit with them since they are white while he is bi-racial, having a black father. Raymond spends every other weekend with his dad, but he doesn’t fit there either thanks to the dad’s new wife who doesn’t like to be reminded that her husband had a life before she entered it.
Lucky for him, he is about to find a fabulous new friend in the form of Millie Gutermann, a ninety-two-year-old blind woman who lives in his apartment building in New York. They meet when she approaches him in the hallway with the question, “Have you seen Luis Velez?”
As it turns out, Luis Velez is a man who helped her with her grocery shopping, banking, and the like. For the last four years he came around at least three times a week to help out, until one day when he didn’t. It’s been seventeen days since his last visit. The only contact information she has for him is a cell phone number that is out of service.
Raymond is bright enough to understand that if Luis isn’t coming around to help, Millie is on her own, which is exactly the case. Millie is down to her last can of soup. Thus, he takes it upon himself to not only help Millie with her basic life needs, but also to try to solve the mystery of what happened to Luis. He doesn’t tell Millie this part, though, trying to protect her from any bad news he finds out.
And so, he creates a list of twenty-one men named “Luis Velez” in the greater New York City area. He gets phone numbers and addresses and sets out to find them even though the odds are not good. He doesn’t even know if he is spelling the name correctly.
I will give a clue as to what happened to Luis because it was the most poignant line in the book. It seems he was “guilty” of “Walking While Latino.” The full details of what happened come out halfway through the book and then there is just so much more to follow.
I ached for many reasons while reading this, especially feeling empathy for people like Raymond, who are lonely and misunderstood. I was so glad that he found a friend like Millie. And I’m glad others can “have her friendship” too by reading this terrific book.
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