Lalo Lespérance Never Forgot

Lalo Lespérance Never Forgot
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Release Date
September 12, 2023
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A moving middle-grade mystery about a boy dealing with long-repressed memories of his father as he learns about his Mexican and Haitian heritage while spying on a mysterious stranger during the first weeks of COVID lockdown.

Lalo Lesperance lives with his older brother and Mexican American mother in a low-income apartment building in Fort Myers. They moved there from a subdivision after the family lost Lalo’s Haitian American father. At school, Lalo is known as the boy who can’t remember anything and needs special help in all his classes. But when the first COVID lockdown hits, he finds himself in a friendship of convenience with Vivi, a Mexican American kid his age who gets perfect grades and who never gave him a second thought when they were in school. Vivi’s abuela watches the kids while their mothers work long shifts as nurses at a clinic slammed by COVID. As Lalo navigates his much smaller pandemic world, he discovers his apartment building has its own mysteries, like a sinister stranger in an old RV and a storage closet full of junk, including an old radio that just might hold the key to remembering why Lalo’s family moved to the apartment and what happened to his father.

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Pandemic Tale with a Time Travel Twist
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It's the beginning of the pandemic, and Lalo's family has worked out a way to deal with the lockdown and the closing of in person school. Lalo and his brother Claudio go to the apartment of their friends Lupe and Vivi so that their grandmother, Alita, can supervise everyone. Claudio attends virtual classes on his phone, Lalo and Vivi share a school issued computer, and Lupe stays in her room, since she doesn't like the bossy attitude of her grandmother. Both families' mothers work in health care, so are tired, worried, and busy. Lalo struggles with memory issues, and while he normally gets accomodations at school, his teachers haven't quite figured out how to help him online. Since he has plenty of time, he has a side project-- he's determined that he will fix Claudio's PlayStation and find a way to attach wires to his head, so that he can record his memories and play them back. His mother even orders a soldering kit for him, but the project doesn't go as planned. Lalo's mother has Mexican ancestry, and his father was Haitian, and Alita (short for abuelita) often pines for the Mexico of her youth. Claudio disregards the Haitian part of his background for a variety of reasons that are discussed. Vivi, and other children in the neighborhood, are concerned about a van that has been parked outside their apartment building, and figure that the shadowy figure they see there occasionally is someone who steals children. They spend a lot of time spying on him, and try to lure him out by leaving mangos outside his door. Lalo finds a storage space in the building, and when he tries to use an old radio, thinks that it allows him to remember things from his past. His father died when he was small, and he has trouble remembering him; Claudio doesn't want to talk about him. As the lockdown continues, a neighbor becomes ill and is hospitalized, Lalo befriends Lupe and talks to her about the past, and secrets surrounding his father's death become more memorable. When Alita also contracts COVID, Lalo's "bubble" has to come together to support each other, and even the shadowy figure in the van is drawn into the community.

Good Points
Because I had my elderly parents, I didn't really see anyone in person during the early days of the pandemic, so it was very interesting to read about a "bubble" in a Florida apartment building. It made perfect sense for the grandmother to watch her grandkids and Lalo and Claudio; I talked to a LOT of grandparents who were struggling with online learning during this time! The depictions of online schooling, difficulties in getting to stores, the parents working in medical fields, and even neighbors getting sick were all quite good. Lalo's memory issues were a little vague, but we find out why later in the book. Even the children's obsession with the man in the van seemed accurate; when you can't go anywhere or do anything, it's easy to focus on something in your environment that seems off. I don't want to give away the family secret, but it is on trend with sociopolitical commentary.

While it made sense for the children to be obsessed with the man in the van, I was a little surprised that Alita didn't just go bang on his door and ask what was up. Maybe the adults knew but just didn't tell the children? Another resident is asked to move his disabled vehicle that he is fixing up, so the landlord clearly is paying attention, adding to my confusion about why this wasn't addressed.

This is a good choice for readers who want a neighborhood story set in Florida, like Cartaya's The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora or pandemic tales like Yang's New From Here or Torres' The Do-Over.
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