The First Rule of Punk

by Celia C. Pérez (2017)

An Intermediate and Middle School selection.

Available in Spanish!

There’s a lot to know about Maria Luisa, better known as Malú, but let’s start with this: she loves punk music, she loves to make creative, personal zines, and she hates cilantro.

Malú’s father runs a punk record store – in Florida, while Malú and her mother – whom she teases as SuperMexican – are moving to Chicago. Like many a middle school student, Malú is figuring out who she is, who she wants to be, and how she wants to present herself to the world. (Answer: Punk, not Mexican.)

This puts her in conflict with her Mom (about how she dresses), with a mean girl at school, and with her school administration. Malú is a winning champion because she finds such constructive ways to deal with these overlapping challenges.

She investigates herself and processes and re-builds her confidence in her creative zines, which are shared liberally throughout the book. She finds a core of friends, and even forms a band with them. Though teased by some as a ‘coconut’ (brown on the outside, white on the inside), she turns that into a badge of honor by naming the band, The Co-Co’s. When the band is not accepted for the school talent festival, Malú and her friends set up an Alternative Fiesta.

Malú and author Celia Perez also don’t really use punk – the music or the motifs – as a way of challenging authority. Malú wears Blondie t-shirts and wants to color her hair. But both she and her father really use the notion of punk as a way of finding strength and being yourself: “Worrying about stuff is so not punk, Malú.” And: “…being punk was about being open-minded and…giving people the benefit of the doubt.”

This is a novel chock full of entertaining and provocative stimuli throughout – from food to music. When Malú and her band are trying to figure out how to make their performance stand out as innovative and original, she takes an old standard from one of her mother’s traditional favorites, “Cielito lindo,” by Lola Beltran, and adds the perfect punk touch to make it their own.

Malú’s friend, Joe’s grandmother may ask, “I don’t understand why you kids try so hard to stick out.” But Malú demonstrates that punk is really about finding yourself, appreciating where you come from, and asserting yourself with constructive confidence.