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Lyrical and gritty, this authentic coming-of-age story about a border-town family in Brownsville, Texas, insightfully illuminates a little-understood corner of America. Domingo Martinez lays bare his interior and exterior worlds as he struggles to make sense of the violent and the ugly, along with the beautiful and the loving, in a Texas border town in the 1980s. Partly a r Lyrical and gritty, this authentic coming-of-age story about a border-town family in Brownsville, Texas, insightfully illuminates a little-understood corner of America. Domingo Martinez lays bare his interior and exterior worlds as he struggles to make sense of the violent and the ugly, along with the beautiful and the loving, in a Texas border town in the 1980s. Partly a reflection on the culture of machismo and partly an exploration of the author’s boyhood spent in his sister’s hand-me-down clothes, this book delves into the enduring, complex bond between Martinez and his deeply flawed but fiercely protective older brother, Daniel. It features a cast of memorable characters, including his gun-hoarding former farmhand, Gramma, and “the Mimis”— two of his older sisters who for a short, glorious time manage to transform themselves from poor Latina adolescents into upper-class white girls. Martinez provides a glimpse into a society where children are traded like commerce, physical altercations routinely solve problems, drugs are rampant, sex is often crude, and people depend on the family witch doctor for advice. Charming, painful, and enlightening, this book examines the traumas and pleasures of growing up in South Texas and the often terrible consequences when different cultures collide on the banks of a dying river.


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Lyrical and gritty, this authentic coming-of-age story about a border-town family in Brownsville, Texas, insightfully illuminates a little-understood corner of America. Domingo Martinez lays bare his interior and exterior worlds as he struggles to make sense of the violent and the ugly, along with the beautiful and the loving, in a Texas border town in the 1980s. Partly a r Lyrical and gritty, this authentic coming-of-age story about a border-town family in Brownsville, Texas, insightfully illuminates a little-understood corner of America. Domingo Martinez lays bare his interior and exterior worlds as he struggles to make sense of the violent and the ugly, along with the beautiful and the loving, in a Texas border town in the 1980s. Partly a reflection on the culture of machismo and partly an exploration of the author’s boyhood spent in his sister’s hand-me-down clothes, this book delves into the enduring, complex bond between Martinez and his deeply flawed but fiercely protective older brother, Daniel. It features a cast of memorable characters, including his gun-hoarding former farmhand, Gramma, and “the Mimis”— two of his older sisters who for a short, glorious time manage to transform themselves from poor Latina adolescents into upper-class white girls. Martinez provides a glimpse into a society where children are traded like commerce, physical altercations routinely solve problems, drugs are rampant, sex is often crude, and people depend on the family witch doctor for advice. Charming, painful, and enlightening, this book examines the traumas and pleasures of growing up in South Texas and the often terrible consequences when different cultures collide on the banks of a dying river.

30 review for Boy Kings of Texas: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kelly (and the Book Boar)

    Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/ 3.5 Stars I really have nothing negative to say about The Boy Kings of Texas. This was another selection I picked up due to this list and my issues are strictly opinion based and fairly benign at that. Per usual, I am always curious why a “Regular Joe” (for lack of a better term) deems their life story so much more noteworthy than the next guy that he/she takes pen to paper, but more power to them for believing their story worth telling Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/ 3.5 Stars I really have nothing negative to say about The Boy Kings of Texas. This was another selection I picked up due to this list and my issues are strictly opinion based and fairly benign at that. Per usual, I am always curious why a “Regular Joe” (for lack of a better term) deems their life story so much more noteworthy than the next guy that he/she takes pen to paper, but more power to them for believing their story worth telling. While memoirs by non-famous people aren’t always my idea of a great time, I am pretty open about my love for coming of age tales, so my rating would have probably been kicked up a notch had so many years past the formative ones been left on the cutting room floor. A heavier-handed editor would have also been beneficial. Domingo Martinez has an excellent delivery – very conversational with a dry wit, like sitting around the kitchen table having coffee with an old friend. Unfortunately not every entry was a winner so my attention waned at times. For those looking for an #ownvoices selection regarding the migrant experience, this is once again not it. Martinez’s brothers refer to themselves as Tejano, “Texican” and plain old American. They were all U.S. citizens and this is simply the story of their life growing up in Brownsville, Texas. That’s not to say it’s not worth reading, however. Much like Half Broke Horses tales about the Granny are well worth the price of admission all on their own.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    Unable to get my iPhone to sync in my car I tuned to NPR where I caught Martinez’s hilarious response to his memoir receiving a National Book Award nomination. I made an abrupt left turn for Elliott Bay Books and bought it on the spot. What ensued was 5 evenings of colossal disappointment. No stranger to disappointment after 20+ years of marriage, I tend to set the bar a bit higher when I pay to be entertained. Domingo, I want my twenty bucks back. Martinez chronicles his childhood and adolescen Unable to get my iPhone to sync in my car I tuned to NPR where I caught Martinez’s hilarious response to his memoir receiving a National Book Award nomination. I made an abrupt left turn for Elliott Bay Books and bought it on the spot. What ensued was 5 evenings of colossal disappointment. No stranger to disappointment after 20+ years of marriage, I tend to set the bar a bit higher when I pay to be entertained. Domingo, I want my twenty bucks back. Martinez chronicles his childhood and adolescence in the hairy armpit border town of Brownsville, TX. Given the location and his crazy family rife with Mexicans and Mexican half-breeds you’d think he’d have so much material to work with he’d have to judiciously edit. Not so. 440 pages of incredibly detailed uninteresting non-events – was his editor in a coma? He does deliver the goods when writing about conversations with his father but those are in the first 100 pages and after that it’s all downhill. The final 75 pages detailing his relationship with Dan, his older brother, are downright painful to read and not in a good way. Wildly uneven writing.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Erasmo Guerra

    Having grown up in the Rio Grand Valley of South Texas, along the Texas-Mexico border where the bulk of this coming-of-age story is set, I swooned with vertigo at the dizzying accuracy of the landscape, people, culture, politics, violence, poverty, and dark humor that Domingo Martinez depicts in his stunning memoir "The Boy Kings of Texas." The book should be shelved alongside classics like "The Liars' Club" by Mary Karr. All at once, within these pages, I was back home and feeling all the compli Having grown up in the Rio Grand Valley of South Texas, along the Texas-Mexico border where the bulk of this coming-of-age story is set, I swooned with vertigo at the dizzying accuracy of the landscape, people, culture, politics, violence, poverty, and dark humor that Domingo Martinez depicts in his stunning memoir "The Boy Kings of Texas." The book should be shelved alongside classics like "The Liars' Club" by Mary Karr. All at once, within these pages, I was back home and feeling all the complicated emotions of being there. Happy. Doomed. Threatened. Depressed. Angry. Sad. At times, especially in the beginning, the story suffered from an unsympathetic, I'm-better-than-everyone-here adolescent tone. He was a smart-ass who, even more infuriating, really was smart. He was a Mexican-American Holden Caulfield from the undeveloped colonias. So he came off as a bit of a so-called "necio" with his posturing, F-bombs, and chillando about being alien in both cultures. But he was never a bore. I always wanted to hear more. I've often wondered, as someone who also writes about the border, if escape is THE narrative of the region. But, without question, Martinez's is perhaps the best one that I've come upon that captures so awfully and so well that I-can't-breathe-until-I-get-out-of-here panic attack. While I sometimes bristled at how there was so little love for the region, I understood why he felt as he did as the brutal story unfolded. My one problem was with the end. (view spoiler)[Fading out with that mention of his fiancé in a coma and that this was a story that would require another book of its own... Seriously? How could he just leave us there? I wished the story had ended with the epilogue. (hide spoiler)] Overall, an incredible achievement.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Gabriela Caballero

    I'll be honest and say I was only able to get just a fourth into the book before I had to put it down. I was really excited when I had first heard of the book. I'm also from South Texas and reading narratives about home that have actually made it to mainstream is incredible. Talk about a place in the world that has almost zero representation. This book, however, was very hard for me to digest. To start with the bare bones, the writing style of the book didn't work for me. It felt like it hadn't I'll be honest and say I was only able to get just a fourth into the book before I had to put it down. I was really excited when I had first heard of the book. I'm also from South Texas and reading narratives about home that have actually made it to mainstream is incredible. Talk about a place in the world that has almost zero representation. This book, however, was very hard for me to digest. To start with the bare bones, the writing style of the book didn't work for me. It felt like it hadn't seen an editor. A lot of sentences left me confused because the narrator would change tenses midway through a sentence and not really in a way that read as purposeful, so much as, especially poor editing. The narrative itself is not good either - there's a lot of really basic plot with glib commentary without any more profound thoughts, complex plot development, or more structured musings about his experiences. I could have gotten over all of these things, except the narrator's voice is so, so negative and narrow-minded. The author also makes a lot of general assumptions about South Texas and states them as if they are current facts. I grew up 20 years after him and working class but, I don't know anyone who bartered their children, for example, and the book asserts that this is common practice in South Texas without qualifying it as his opinion that it was a common practice in Martinez's barrio in Brownsville 30 years ago (not that I particularly find him credible as his narration and generalizations are so unreliable). This book frightens me because so many people who already have a lot of opinions of what the border looks likes are going to continue to view our communities as savage or less than human, which are opinions that are already too rampant of Mexican-Americans and South Texas. The author's perspective isn't nuanced or complex and lacks a lot of structural awareness. It had a lot of potential, especially as the book starts off criticizing machismo in Mexican culture, but, only continues to depict Mexican/Mexican-American patriarchy as savage but the author's own brand of toxic masculinity as superior despite all of it's own chauvinism. I feel guilty for having such a negative opinion of the book when I haven't been able to read all of it and I will try to try to pick it up now and then to finish because I don't want to simply shut down Martinez's perspective because it's so radically different than my own. I really was excited to read this book, and still want to give a chance, but ultimately I feel every time I try to read another chapter I become only more disappointed and honestly, disgusted by the conclusions he's drawing.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Silas Hansen

    I wanted to love this book -- I heard an excerpt on This American Life and awaited the publication date -- but I just couldn't. The writing almost never went beyond anecdote -- little reflection, few explorations of complications, etc. It just wasn't what I had hoped.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Colleen

    Reading this book was like eaves-dropping on someone's therapy session, which proved to be both moving and frustrating at the same time. I loved the memories of childhood - playful, innocent, sad, angering - so engaging and real in the way June (Domingo) relives some of the happier times and the brutal times. I really had the sense of a child's innocence being chiseled away, big hunks at a time. The teen years were just as moving and maddening. The adults in June's life continue to sabotage his Reading this book was like eaves-dropping on someone's therapy session, which proved to be both moving and frustrating at the same time. I loved the memories of childhood - playful, innocent, sad, angering - so engaging and real in the way June (Domingo) relives some of the happier times and the brutal times. I really had the sense of a child's innocence being chiseled away, big hunks at a time. The teen years were just as moving and maddening. The adults in June's life continue to sabotage his chances of developing a healthy self image and a switch in schools complicates his path. By the time June graduates from high school, he's completely aimless with a boat load of untapped talent. The ensuing years are a sad and pathetic rendition of dead-beat grown men coasting through life because they had worthless male role models in an environment that stifled any kind of maturity. If that last sentence seems harsh, it's because that's when I struggled to maintain the same level of empathy for June that I had during the childhood and teen years. As the book progressed through June's life, the story-telling became less engaging, less sympathetic. In fact I was quite frustrated with the adult June. However, taking a step back, I can refocus and see that this memoir is indeed part of the process of his healing, thus, the book his therapy session. And one can't critique another's therapy session, that's just plain wrong. And it's reassuring knowing that this "dead-beat" man found the inspiration, energy and courage to write his memoir. I just wish the last third of the memoir was as engaging as the first two-thirds.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Teresa Mayfield

    I heard about this book through the This American Life story about Mr. Martinez’s sisters, “The Mimis”. As I am from Texas and spent my elementary school years in El Paso, the story sounded interesting to me. And it is interesting, but also a sad commentary on more than a few communities, cultures, families, and the state of Texas (and Mexico for that matter). Much of this memoir comes off a bit too movie scene ready, but I feel that some of the story rings with truth. I did not experience direc I heard about this book through the This American Life story about Mr. Martinez’s sisters, “The Mimis”. As I am from Texas and spent my elementary school years in El Paso, the story sounded interesting to me. And it is interesting, but also a sad commentary on more than a few communities, cultures, families, and the state of Texas (and Mexico for that matter). Much of this memoir comes off a bit too movie scene ready, but I feel that some of the story rings with truth. I did not experience directly any of Mr. Martinez’s culture collisions first hand, but I did have friends who I watched go through some of what he describes. If you are from a mixed culture or first generation immigrant family or grew up in the thick of a melting pot, I would guess that you will be able to relate to many of Mr. Martinez’s experiences. Otherwise, you might find the whole thing just too hard to swallow. Two of the things that bothered me most about the book and make me feel that perhaps much of it is too movie scene ready are misstatements of facts. These are facts that Mr. Martinez or any of his editors could have bothered to Google and included the truth rather than what Mr. Martinez thought was true in the memoir. At the very least he could have made the statement that what he was relating was what he thought was true at the time. The first fact comes from his tale of rattlesnakes killed by his grandmother and the length of their rattles. He says of the rattles, “rattlesnakes grow a section each year, and this pair was about nine years old, a year younger than me”. Sorry Mr. Martinez, but every amateur Herpetologist knows the following: A Rattlesnake cannot be aged simply by counting the number of rattles on its tail. The tip of the tail of a new born Rattlesnake ends in a smooth rounded, slightly pear-shaped, "button," which is the first segment of the future rattle. As the young snake grows it sheds its skin, usually several times a year. Each shed skin adds a new, loosely overlapped and interlocked segment to the rattle. Shedding twice a year will add two segments to the rattle. Shedding three times a year will add three segments to the rattle. The more a Rattlesnake sheds, the more segments are added to its rattle. (Florida Museum of Natural History) Not to mention that the rattles are broken off quite often. The second fact has to do with red tides. Mr. Martinez writes, “Karis had arrived during a red tide, when all the shellfish that have been saving up their toxins as a defense against larger predators suddenly purge it out all at once”. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife; “Red tide is a naturally-occurring, higher-than-normal concentration of the microscopic algae Karenia brevis (formerly Gymnodinium breve)” (Texas Parks and Wildlife). Unfortunately for me, these editorial issues really make me question the truth in the rest of the memoir, especially because Mr. Martinez himself states “I sat and went where I usually did, into my head and imagined all sorts of ways to get myself integrated into the story lines of popular movies I’d seen”. This feels less like a memoir and more like a tragic screenplay. I don’t doubt that Mr. Martinez had experiences that informed this book, but I do doubt that his editors were very thorough and I feel that for easily verified facts, the author should take five minutes and Google it rather than just spreading misinformation.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Willard's Epiphany

    This is an excellent and very funny read. Epiphany, A Literary Journal published the first three chapters of this book. We are proud that we helped to launch Domingo's writing career. His success is our success. He had never published before we pulled the first three chapters from the slush pile. After our publication he got a spot on NPR's This American Life and more recently a lead review in the Texas Monthly. He is a warm, funny and wonderful human being. Congratulations and good luck Domingo This is an excellent and very funny read. Epiphany, A Literary Journal published the first three chapters of this book. We are proud that we helped to launch Domingo's writing career. His success is our success. He had never published before we pulled the first three chapters from the slush pile. After our publication he got a spot on NPR's This American Life and more recently a lead review in the Texas Monthly. He is a warm, funny and wonderful human being. Congratulations and good luck Domingo.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Domingo Martinez

    Review from Kirkus Reviews, The Toughest Book Critics in the World: Seattle-based Latino journalist Martinez recalls his youthful adventures in the 1980s romping around the border town of Brownsville, Texas. Though dirt poor, the author’s Mexican-American family continually demonstrated resilience, solidarity and humor. His parents, “children themselves” right out of high school, began having kids in the late-’60s. In a household of “Sisyphean wetbacks” struggling to make ends meet, Martinez was t Review from Kirkus Reviews, The Toughest Book Critics in the World: Seattle-based Latino journalist Martinez recalls his youthful adventures in the 1980s romping around the border town of Brownsville, Texas. Though dirt poor, the author’s Mexican-American family continually demonstrated resilience, solidarity and humor. His parents, “children themselves” right out of high school, began having kids in the late-’60s. In a household of “Sisyphean wetbacks” struggling to make ends meet, Martinez was the youngest. Much like his siblings, he was light-skinned, didn’t identify with Mexican culture, and spoke English, an anomaly in a primarily Spanish-speaking region. From his family’s crowded house emerge resonant stories about a tough, gun-toting, spell-casting Gramma; the death of the family dog and his father’s swift retribution; his two older sisters, “the Mimis,” who dyed their hair blonde, dressed in designer labels and adopted a “Valley Girl” affectation; his hard-drinking, abrasive father’s drug trafficking; shenanigans with friends; turbulence with close older brother Dan; and melancholy recollections of beatings from his parents and what he can remember of their sordid histories. At more than 450 pages, the personal remembrances may prove wearisome, even as the narrative brims with candid, palpable emotion. Still, Martinez lushly captures the mood of the era and illuminates the struggles of a family hobbled by poverty and a skinny Latino boy becoming a man amid a variety of tough circumstances. A finely detailed, sentimental family scrapbook inscribed with love.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    I don't know, y'all. Maybe memoirs aren't my thing. Maybe this memoir is not my thing. Although the first story (or which ever one it was about the dog) made me sad, I thought I could get into it. And I did for some of the stories. But certainly not all of them. So this guy had a bad childhood. And he grew up way faster than any child should. And I guess that's part of the makings of a good memoir. I guess that's why Pollyanna didn't have a memoir. But it got to a point when it was just Too Much f I don't know, y'all. Maybe memoirs aren't my thing. Maybe this memoir is not my thing. Although the first story (or which ever one it was about the dog) made me sad, I thought I could get into it. And I did for some of the stories. But certainly not all of them. So this guy had a bad childhood. And he grew up way faster than any child should. And I guess that's part of the makings of a good memoir. I guess that's why Pollyanna didn't have a memoir. But it got to a point when it was just Too Much for me. It was too much cussing for me (and I love a good F-Bomb). And too much sad and upsetting stuff. But that's part of it. Fine. I get that. Maybe I wasn't in a place to read stuff like that. Some of the stories seemed clunky and I found myself skimming paragraphs just to get through. Honestly? I'd have a hard time recommending it to others.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    Growing up on the Mexican border, I found this book to be very accurate. I loved the "Border Mexican' diction and Spanish/English translations. Martinez has a great creative use of words and ideas. Favorite part was the intellectual discussion of "Where the Wild Things Are". I am amazed that I made it into adulthood. I'm glad that Domingo did and gave me this funny and sad story about life in Brownsville and Seattle. Keep writing.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Book Concierge

    This is a memoir of growing up in Brownsville Texas, near the border with Mexico, in a poor barrio, with few opportunities and even less hope. There are parts of this memoir that are engaging and funny. I loved the story of slaughtering the pig to make the Christmas tamales, or his sisters dying their hair blonde, and trying to transform themselves into “white” teenagers. But I could not connect with the acting out that the boys engaged in – the fighting, drinking, and drugs. By way of backgroun This is a memoir of growing up in Brownsville Texas, near the border with Mexico, in a poor barrio, with few opportunities and even less hope. There are parts of this memoir that are engaging and funny. I loved the story of slaughtering the pig to make the Christmas tamales, or his sisters dying their hair blonde, and trying to transform themselves into “white” teenagers. But I could not connect with the acting out that the boys engaged in – the fighting, drinking, and drugs. By way of background, I grew up in a Mexican-American household, with a father who was born in Mexico, and a mother who was born in a border-town on the Texas side of the Rio Grande – the same town where I was born and where my grandparents and most of my aunts and uncles stayed to raise their families. I recognized some of the setting, traditions, and cultural mores Martinez relates. But on the whole I felt as disenfranchised from the experiences he relates, as he states he felt. The families I knew were cohesive; the parents working menial jobs, perhaps, but staying together in love and faith to raise children who would succeed. I kept waiting for some insight, and never got it. I wanted to understand this all-consuming need to express machismo, but could only shake my head and think “not again!” So I’m left disappointed and dissatisfied. I felt I was reading the rambling notes of a journal his therapist suggested he keep, rather than a cohesive memoir.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    No one I know of has written more astutely of machismo, perhaps because, for much of the book, it is seen from a child's perspective. The title is a reference to a great Mexican anthem: "A stone in the road/said that my destiny/was to roll and roll./Later a traveller told me/that it's not important to be the first to arrive,/but instead to know how to arrive./With money and without money/I always do what I want/And my word is the law./I don't have a throne or a queen/or anyone who understands me No one I know of has written more astutely of machismo, perhaps because, for much of the book, it is seen from a child's perspective. The title is a reference to a great Mexican anthem: "A stone in the road/said that my destiny/was to roll and roll./Later a traveller told me/that it's not important to be the first to arrive,/but instead to know how to arrive./With money and without money/I always do what I want/And my word is the law./I don't have a throne or a queen/or anyone who understands me/but I am still the king." That song permeates poor, urban culture in Mexico. Car horns blare it, and I used to see the last line painted in red Gothic letters on windshields. It captures an attitude: "see, I may have failed, but I'm still proud." It is simultaneously a statement of bravado and an excuse. Domingo Martinez did not grow up in Mexico, but instead in a place as close to it as any in the United States: a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Brownsville, Texas, itself a poor city. He has little to say about the stereotype of the close Hispanic family. Instead, his was suffused with the theme of the "king" and he links it not just to his father and assorted uncles but even, implictly, to his grandmother. Not everything is serious: he is hilarious but not cruel on the subject of his upwardly-striving sisters. The narration is a pleasure in itself, both energetic and perceptive. However, like many propulsive narratives, it reaches a natural end and keeps on going. Possibly a quarter of the book, the last portion, really belongs to the sequel he is probably writing.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Christina

    I really wanted to enjoy this book. I heard a few excerpts on public radio, and when I finally was able to find the book on Overdrive, I was excited to finally take a crack at it. In this memoir, Martinez recounts his childhood in Brownsville, Texas, a border town where my own husband's family, like Martinez's has been rooted for generations (before the existence of the actual border, in fact). Unfortunately, not all of the anecdotes in this book were as amusing as those broadcast on NPR, the wr I really wanted to enjoy this book. I heard a few excerpts on public radio, and when I finally was able to find the book on Overdrive, I was excited to finally take a crack at it. In this memoir, Martinez recounts his childhood in Brownsville, Texas, a border town where my own husband's family, like Martinez's has been rooted for generations (before the existence of the actual border, in fact). Unfortunately, not all of the anecdotes in this book were as amusing as those broadcast on NPR, the writing style was often sloppy and the tone was inconsistent. The theme of racial injustice and stratification was woven into this book- race relations among Mexican-Americans and between Mexican-Americans and "Anglos" differ greatly than what is seen here in California, and I was curious to gain a deeper, more nuanced understanding of these differences. Although Martinez's memoir offered up some perspective, these dynamics were not fully explored, yet were referred to often. This memoir had potential; perhaps a few more drafts and revisions were in order.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    I had a hard time getting into this memoir at first because the narrative style was informal to the point of feeling uneven. However, about a hundred or so pages in, I started getting a feel for the book's flow, and things took off from there. The prose is brutally honest and anything but self conscious--and the narrator's voice shines well beyond the book's apparent inconsistencies. Somehow, Martinez manages to paint a vivid portrait of his particular experiences while still making them feel re I had a hard time getting into this memoir at first because the narrative style was informal to the point of feeling uneven. However, about a hundred or so pages in, I started getting a feel for the book's flow, and things took off from there. The prose is brutally honest and anything but self conscious--and the narrator's voice shines well beyond the book's apparent inconsistencies. Somehow, Martinez manages to paint a vivid portrait of his particular experiences while still making them feel relatable to those of us who didn't grow up in the Valley.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Million

    Martinez's book strikes me as part confessional, part psychological release, part horror story, with frequently witty observations spiced in throughout. I am struggling even to write a review of it as it has left me conflicted re: did I like the book or dislike it? I don't know that I can answer definitively either way, except to say that I respect Martinez's effort and final product. I think I will take a different approach in this review and make a few lists. WHAT I LIKED 1. His often astute obs Martinez's book strikes me as part confessional, part psychological release, part horror story, with frequently witty observations spiced in throughout. I am struggling even to write a review of it as it has left me conflicted re: did I like the book or dislike it? I don't know that I can answer definitively either way, except to say that I respect Martinez's effort and final product. I think I will take a different approach in this review and make a few lists. WHAT I LIKED 1. His often astute observations about the people, places, and things in his life and how his views on them change (or stay the same) over time. 2. The way Martinez admits that sometimes his recollections are hazy, and certain he cannot really remember accurately. I believe that all of us are this way, much as we would be loathe to admit it. 3. The character portraits that he paints are vivid. 4. I can identify with his intense desire to move away from home, and not just a little ways away, but to put considerable distance between himself and his childhood (literally and figuratively). I further admire the fact that he actually followed through on it. Many people will talk about leaving their hometowns, but never work up the gumption to really do it. 5. Martinez's recognition that he must move away or he will go crazy, and if didn't move when he did, he might never leave. 6. The guts that it took to admit many of his failings, and even more so to basically air his family's dirty laundry for everyone to see. 7. Martinez has a very lucid and descriptive way of writing. WHAT I DID NOT LIKE 1. He makes a few references to his therapist, but he never tells us why he ultimately decided to start seeing one, when he made that decision, and if those sessions have really helped him, and if so in what way. 2. At times, he seems to blame his father (and he absolutely has some justification in doing so) for almost everything that has went wrong in his life. Was his dad a good father? Not even close. Did he damage his son psychologically? Most assuredly so. But it seemed to me that, as Martinez fell into one vice after another, he was reluctant to admit that he himself was at least partially to blame. At one point almost at the end of the book, he admits to having an addictive personality. I am not sure that all of that can be pinned on his father, as bad as the man was. 3. He makes a few cryptic references to one of his girlfriends in Seattle, Rebecca, but she is never in the story. I would have liked to have seen him talk about his relationship with her, even if just a little bit to provide more context around what he did in Seattle. 4. He skips past ten years of his life. Why? It makes me think of someone who you know very well, see on a daily basis, and suddenly for whatever reason that person is removed from your life for a decade, then just as quickly reappears. It is hard to just pick up the pieces where you left off at. 5. What was the response to the long, somewhat defensive letter that he wrote to his sister Marge detailing his older brother Dan's fight? He said it changed his relationships with his family members, while that began the erosion of his relationship with Dan. He goes in-depth concerning he and Dan, but says nothing about how his relationships changed with his sisters or mother. 6. Despite him writing about it at length, I am still left somewhat puzzled by the way that he and Dan have cut each other off. At the end, the book seems to almost be a plea to Dan to resume communication with him. 7. Where does his relationship with his mother stand? At one point, I thought he was going to discuss it (when he briefly mentions that they were driving to San Antonio after his parents divorced and he asked her about her possibly being raped), but that never really happens. 8. Any of the friends that he had in Brownsville basically disappear later on in the story, and it makes me wonder if he ever saw any of them again or heard from them. 9. There is absolutely no question in my mind that he had a screwed up childhood, and it is no surprise that he did develop such personality and substance abuse problems as he grew up. Yet, a few of the things that he does talk about (like fights at school) do not seem too much different from my childhood. Perhaps I am not fully appreciative of these instances; yet at times while I was reading I thought to myself "That (or something very similar) happened to me, although the setting was different." 10. His frequent asides became sort of annoying. He would start a chapter on something or someone, but then get side-tracked and veer into a backstory for several pages before returning to the present. Doing that a few times did not bother me, but Martinez does it frequently and it started to - in places - make the book drag. 11. Along with #10, the pace at times seemed uneven. At certain points, I was engrossed in the book; other times I was almost bored. While writing this review, I had the rating at two stars. But I am changing it to three stars as perhaps I think that, at two stars, I am not being charitable enough to Martinez and appreciative of the difficult undertaking that writing this book must have been. I can completely understand why someone reading this would really like it; I can also see why someone would not like it. I do think that someone who grew up in the same area as he undoubtedly would be better suited to judge his work (at least the Texas portion of it). But, then again, everyone has different life experiences, even if they live in the same area. In the end, I feel sadness for Martinez and all that he had to endure - from his grandma, from his parents, from Brownsville, and - most of all - from himself.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Arielle

    2015 Reading Challenge - A funny book After hearing the chapter about the "Two Mimis" on "This American Life", I thought I would love this book. That was definitely not the case. While there were moments of levity and interesting story telling, it was not enough to save the book. The editor seems to have fallen asleep at the wheel, the stories rambled and wandered. The Spanish was atrocious, the spelling, the accent marks, even the translations were off the mark. Martinez also seemed to conflate 2015 Reading Challenge - A funny book After hearing the chapter about the "Two Mimis" on "This American Life", I thought I would love this book. That was definitely not the case. While there were moments of levity and interesting story telling, it was not enough to save the book. The editor seems to have fallen asleep at the wheel, the stories rambled and wandered. The Spanish was atrocious, the spelling, the accent marks, even the translations were off the mark. Martinez also seemed to conflate the immense dysfunction of his family with his culture. I can see why there would be the inclination to do this. Is it easier to just say your family was culturally doomed than to admit that, not only were they abusive and mentally ill, but that this genuinely who they are. That they are just not great people. But choosing this path is so dangerous and rife with stereotypes. It seems like he is seeking a laugh or applause for the outlandish picture he paints. He's looking for the shock value, and it is, quite frankly disgusting. There are terrible and dysfunctional people everywhere, but he has convinced himself and tries to convince the reader that this type of dysfunction is inherently Mexican-American.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dan Oko

    This may be my winter of memoirs: Another excellent one here, which could not have been more different in tone, or subject, than Strayed's Wild -- which I read and reviewed last month -- and yet manages to delight and provoke in its own right. Reading this on the heels of the other, I come with a new respect for those willing to lay open their heart on the page. It gives me hope as a writer, as well as a reader. For those who have wondered what it might be like to grow up on the Rio Grande front This may be my winter of memoirs: Another excellent one here, which could not have been more different in tone, or subject, than Strayed's Wild -- which I read and reviewed last month -- and yet manages to delight and provoke in its own right. Reading this on the heels of the other, I come with a new respect for those willing to lay open their heart on the page. It gives me hope as a writer, as well as a reader. For those who have wondered what it might be like to grow up on the Rio Grande frontera, Domingo Martinez makes an excellent guide. He is a man-child from the promise land of South Texas, and his experiences as a boy and a man are informed by a clear desire to step beyond stereotypes. He tells his gut wrenching tale of self-discovery with self-assured elan, and painful honesty, in a style that engages and embraces this messy world and all its magic. Overall, Boy Kings is a deeply humanizing take on the world, uncracking codes of Mexican-American machismo and Texas myth making, brotherly love and more. In the end, I was held rapt reading this profoundly personal development of a writer and an individual I hope to hear from again.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mickey

    Martinez is a mediocre writer who was blessed with an interesting family that helps this piece along. His family is interesting and so is his upbringing but the book lacks structure. There are so many events he recounts that the reader could've done without. I really enjoyed the last half of the book about his relationship with his brothers but it feels like a completely different book from the rest. Martinez beats you over the head with the theme of the memoir and even though I can relate to a Martinez is a mediocre writer who was blessed with an interesting family that helps this piece along. His family is interesting and so is his upbringing but the book lacks structure. There are so many events he recounts that the reader could've done without. I really enjoyed the last half of the book about his relationship with his brothers but it feels like a completely different book from the rest. Martinez beats you over the head with the theme of the memoir and even though I can relate to a lot of what he went through growing up different in a poor, racially segregated community I did find him kind of whiny. There's also his tendency to allude to future events and then never address them (his constant references to Derek's near death experience). There are some chapters that are really interesting and compelling. But the book overall is unorganized and while I enjoyed reading it, I won't be reading it again and I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to others.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Huether

    The Boy Kings of Texas: A Memoir by Domingo Martinez Thank you Goodreads for picking my name for this book. Sometimes you have a wonderful dream that you don't want to end. This book was like that. It was so well written and interesting that it shouldn't end. All stories do end though. Domingo painted a picture of he and his family . He thought he was white, but his brother said no. He was a Mexican. He said "Roads in Texas are good for putting distance between bad memories". I learned things ab The Boy Kings of Texas: A Memoir by Domingo Martinez Thank you Goodreads for picking my name for this book. Sometimes you have a wonderful dream that you don't want to end. This book was like that. It was so well written and interesting that it shouldn't end. All stories do end though. Domingo painted a picture of he and his family . He thought he was white, but his brother said no. He was a Mexican. He said "Roads in Texas are good for putting distance between bad memories". I learned things about myself from this book and why I choose to read certain books. The children were often bartered like cattle. Domingo always wanted to be away from Brownsville, Tx. and Seattle was far away with a new culture where most of the people had no prejudices. Writing is his forte, and he continues to do so in Seattle.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Amazing stories, you will not be disappointed. Read it. He did it without writing groups, this should be added to your reading group agenda. I also will be reading incessantly on Friday to learn what becomes of Gramma, a woman so powerful and wise that she takes out insurance policies on men in the family. I'll read to see if she did, definitively, have anything to do with her husband's death. Again I'll experience the anticipation and suspense of crossing of the border with a big gulp left on th Amazing stories, you will not be disappointed. Read it. He did it without writing groups, this should be added to your reading group agenda. I also will be reading incessantly on Friday to learn what becomes of Gramma, a woman so powerful and wise that she takes out insurance policies on men in the family. I'll read to see if she did, definitively, have anything to do with her husband's death. Again I'll experience the anticipation and suspense of crossing of the border with a big gulp left on the counter at the convenience store. It is a haunting tale of cultures blending and retaining; an author balances tenderness to Dan with an exaggerated or exhilarating sense of power and strength as a man while reminding us of the fact that girls will marry up in families whenever possible. Mazel tov.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    Extremely uneven, disappointing, bloated memoir. There's enough potentially interesting material that I can see how it could have made for a decent book, but clearly the editor was MIA on this one. I made it a third of the way through, hoping the author's stories would build to something, but his admissions of writing this while drunk and of not really remembering a lot, his completely inaccurate Spanish spelling ("bien paca" for "ven acá" and "lla" for "ya" stand out), and his self-aggrandizeme Extremely uneven, disappointing, bloated memoir. There's enough potentially interesting material that I can see how it could have made for a decent book, but clearly the editor was MIA on this one. I made it a third of the way through, hoping the author's stories would build to something, but his admissions of writing this while drunk and of not really remembering a lot, his completely inaccurate Spanish spelling ("bien paca" for "ven acá" and "lla" for "ya" stand out), and his self-aggrandizement made me distrust and dislike this author, and I had to give up. I did enjoy learning about his gramma's tamale-making tradition/scam, and the story about his sisters as "The Mimis" reveals writing chops that are absent in most of the rest of what I read. This should have been an early draft rather than a published book.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Griselda Castillo

    The only bad thing I have to say about this book is that he wrote it before I did!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Leandra

    Beautifully and sorrowfully written. This book was a eye-opening experience for me as I spent many summers in Brownsville, Texas...the setting of this memoir. This author could have been my uncle, my dad, my mom or my grandparents as my family grew up in Texas Southmost. The book gave me a tool to understand the hardship and culture my family came from. They mostly had protected us (my bro and sis) from their past...every now and then they would drop a clue or reveal a sad memory in an unguarded m Beautifully and sorrowfully written. This book was a eye-opening experience for me as I spent many summers in Brownsville, Texas...the setting of this memoir. This author could have been my uncle, my dad, my mom or my grandparents as my family grew up in Texas Southmost. The book gave me a tool to understand the hardship and culture my family came from. They mostly had protected us (my bro and sis) from their past...every now and then they would drop a clue or reveal a sad memory in an unguarded moment. So many of these stories of children being traded like commerce, racism or depression, I had heard about it but the author gave life and angst to them. While this story is Domingo's alone, he wroteh his own story of the impacts of violence, infidelity or machismo is a humbling and haunting way. He gave voice to so many.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    My dad recommend Boy Kings of Texas and loved the author’s ability to tell a story; a non-fiction one, at that. I liked the experience too, even though I didn’t read it quickly. In facts, I requested the hold from the library several times, and read all the sections over the course of a year. It’s an easy book to pick up, though. The people in it are memorable, and leave a lasting impression. Mr. Martinez has led an interesting life, indeed. I’m on vacation and won’t be writing anymore of a review My dad recommend Boy Kings of Texas and loved the author’s ability to tell a story; a non-fiction one, at that. I liked the experience too, even though I didn’t read it quickly. In facts, I requested the hold from the library several times, and read all the sections over the course of a year. It’s an easy book to pick up, though. The people in it are memorable, and leave a lasting impression. Mr. Martinez has led an interesting life, indeed. I’m on vacation and won’t be writing anymore of a review than this. 😂

  26. 5 out of 5

    Melody Richardson

    Definitely not for everyone, this memoir reads like a novel about the harsh realities of a young man growing up near the Mexican border of south Texas. (To those complaining about the editing: I have yet to read a single book that doesn't have a few errors, and I've come across far worse editing than this.) Domingo Martinez has a raw, blunt, and colorful writing style that captivated me, and despite the nearly 450-page length, I wanted more. I look forward to reading more of his work in the futu Definitely not for everyone, this memoir reads like a novel about the harsh realities of a young man growing up near the Mexican border of south Texas. (To those complaining about the editing: I have yet to read a single book that doesn't have a few errors, and I've come across far worse editing than this.) Domingo Martinez has a raw, blunt, and colorful writing style that captivated me, and despite the nearly 450-page length, I wanted more. I look forward to reading more of his work in the future.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Laura Jean

    I can see why it was a finalist for the National Book Award. Extremely well written memoir about a rough and abusive childhood growing up in Brownsville on the Mexican border. One of the things that struck me is the self awareness and absolute unflinching...sometimes flinching...honesty of the author. Powerful and darkly funny, it provided insight into a culture with which I am unfamiliar.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bridgette

    One of my favorite memoirs. Each chapter left me hanging on the edge of my seat - sometimes with my jaw in my hands. The honesty and eloquence of writing made it impossible to put down.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Zardoz

    Growing up poor in Rural America has it’s often repeatable cliques. But, As Martinez shows that’s part a cycle that each generation of a family tries to break out of but often fails to do. Add Racism and Texas hombre culture and you have some interesting stories. If you think you had a messed up childhood rest assured someone always had a worst one. This book is exhibit A.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Liralen

    Perhaps a memoir; perhaps a collection of essays; perhaps a loosely woven set of anecdotes. Martinez grew up in a border town at the tippy tip of Texas, in an environment jam-packed with poverty and dysfunction and racism and machismo and conflict. Good things, too—the family members fighting to keep the family afloat; close ties with some siblings; an eventual understanding of multiple cultures. But mostly these are hard-scrabble hard-knocks hard-everything stories. All told, I found the book pr Perhaps a memoir; perhaps a collection of essays; perhaps a loosely woven set of anecdotes. Martinez grew up in a border town at the tippy tip of Texas, in an environment jam-packed with poverty and dysfunction and racism and machismo and conflict. Good things, too—the family members fighting to keep the family afloat; close ties with some siblings; an eventual understanding of multiple cultures. But mostly these are hard-scrabble hard-knocks hard-everything stories. All told, I found the book pretty frustrating. There's a point near the end where Martinez says something about his family's approach to bringing up the boys vs. bringing up the girls that in a way puts a lot of the rest of the book into context, but I wished this had had a more cohesive narrative than the essays-tied-together format allowed. It often felt as though Martinez couldn't resist the cheap punchline, and while I can appreciate a certain number of those, I hit capacity about a third of the way into the book. Perhaps, then, I should be viewing this another way: not as a cohesive memoir with solid through-lines, but as a shifting portrait of what it was like to grow up in this place where few people looked past the present, this place constantly caught between two cultures and diverse needs. On that level I like the book better; Martinez has a perspective I haven't read too much of, and it's one that's important culturally. But...mostly I just wished it had been edited down to 300 or so pages and that that portrait had been given more defined edges. It'll be interesting to see what the class discussion for this one is like, though. We were split on Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye, which I loved; my classmates who weren't as keen on it largely found it too research-y, I think, and Boy Kings has a very different style.

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