Cover image for It doesn't have to be this way : a barrio story
It doesn't have to be this way : a barrio story
Rodriguez, Luis J., 1954-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
San Francisco : Children's Book Press/Libros Para Niños, [1999]

Physical Description:
31 pages : color illustrations ; 29 cm
Reluctantly a young boy becomes more and more involved in the activities of a local gang, until a tragic event involving his cousin forces him to make a choice about the course of his life.
General Note:
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 4.3 0.5 39750.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
SPA. FICTION Juvenile Fiction Spanish Language

On Order



Monchi likes to write poems, hang out with his cousin Dreamer, and tell stories to his uncle, Tio Rogelio. Then one day, a member of the local gang tells him it's time to join up. "But first you have to prove yourself", he says.

Monchi is scared but excited. He writes his name on the school wall, steals a bike, and buys a knife. The older boys give him the handshake, girls talk to him, and even teachers are afraid of him. But when a tragic event changes everything, Monchi must make an important decision.

It Doesn't Have To Be This Way is a compelling tale of a young boy's encounter with the world of gangs -- a world that author Luis J. Rodriguez knows firsthand. Through his mesmerizing true-to-life story and the dynamic illustrations of artist Daniel Galvez, we see how Monchi is both attracted to the community of gang life and repelled by its violence. There is no easy answer to his dilemma, but the love and respect of his Uncle Rogelio help him find a way out.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 3^-7. The author of the acclaimed adult title Always Running: A Memoir of La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. (1993) tells a picture-book story of 10-year-old Ramon (Monchi), who is pressured to join a gang in the barrio. Monchi is reluctant to become part of the violence. He likes to read and write poetry; he likes helping his uncle fix cars; he's friends with his older girl-cousin Dreamer. Partly through fear, he does go along with Clever, the older boy in the Encanto Locos gang, and Monchi finds it's fun to get respect at school. He learns to steal a bike. He buys a knife. When Dreamer tries to stop him, she is shot in rival gang crossfire, and, in his shock and sorrow, Monchi breaks free and finds a true mentor in his uncle. The violence is not exploited, but it's there: the beatings, the lure of power, Dreamer in a wheelchair after the shooting. In the climax, Monchi refuses to be drawn into the fight for revenge. The message is spelled out, but Rodriguez's personal experience, as a teenage gang member and now as an adult counselor, gives the story immediacy. The text is bilingual, first English, then Spanish, on each page, with richly colored, full-page realistic paintings that show a diverse Latino cast in the dramatic narrative. Great for group discussion about the yearning for a mentor, for community, for courage. --Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Monchi, the 10-year-old narrator of Rodr¡guez's (Am‚rica Is Her Name) well-intentioned if oversimplified cautionary tale, describes his encounter with a gang. When Clever, Monchi's neighbor and a gang member, announces, "It's about time you joined the Pee Wees," Monchi is gratified that the older boy "wanted to be friends and wasn't going to hurt me." Thus, he accepts the invitation, despite warnings from his older girl cousin, Dreamer: "I used to hang around with Clever and them guys.... I don't like some of the things they do." On the night he is to be "jumped in" (beaten for 60 seconds by fellow gang members) as a rite of initiation, a rival gang shows up with guns and shoots Dreamer, who has come to dissuade her cousin from participating. After Monchi learns that she will live, he decides not to join the gang. Unfortunately, all the episodes in the bilingual story get equal weight (a visit with Monchi's uncle, a conversation with Dreamer about a knife in Monchi's possession, etc.) so that the story never builds to the climax when Dreamer is shot. Similarly, Galvez's portraits are lifelike but fall short of creating tension. For example, in a spread that foreshadows Clever's malevolence, Clever gets lost in the gutter. The message is valuable, but gets muddied in the telling. Eve Bunting's Your Move, illus. by James Ransome, offers a more forceful picture book treatment of the same subject. Ages 6-up. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 2-5-"Gangs" is the theme of this bilingual picture book. Ten-year-old Monchi likes to read books and write poetry and lives in the barrio. He is invited to join the Encanto Locos' Pee Wees, the neighborhood gang, by an older member, Clever. In order to join, Monchi must prove himself by first witnessing another initiate as he gets "jumped in" (beaten by five gang members for 60 seconds). Then he is taught how to dress, tie a bandanna on his head, put his placa (name) on the school wall, steal a bicycle, and buy a knife. However, the night Monchi is to be jumped in, his older cousin shows up to plead with him not to join and she is shot by the rival gang as they drive by. Fortunately, she recovers. Soon after, Clever shows up with a handgun and a plan for revenge. In the end, with support from his family, Monchi makes the right decision. Rodriguez's moral is evident but not spelled out, making this book a springboard for discussion. Galvez's realistic illustrations of the characters reflect their strong emotions.-Reina Huerta, Young Women's Leadership School, New York City (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.