Undercover Latina (The Factory)

Undercover Latina (The Factory)
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Release Date
October 11, 2022
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A Latina teen spy goes undercover as a white girl to stop a white supremacist terrorist plot in a fast-paced middle-grade debut from a seasoned author of contemporary crime fiction.

In her debut for younger readers, Aya de León pits a teen spy against the ominous workings of a white nationalist. Fourteen-year-old Andréa Hernández-Baldoquín hails from a family of spies working for the Factory, an international organization dedicated to protecting people of color. For her first solo mission, Andréa straightens her hair and goes undercover as Andrea Burke, a white girl, to befriend the estranged son of a dangerous white supremacist. In addition to her Factory training, the assignment calls for a deep dive into the son’s interests—comic books and gaming—all while taking care not to speak Spanish and blow her family’s cover. But it’s hard to hide who you really are, especially when you develop a crush on your target’s Latino best friend. Can Andréa keep her head, her geek cred, and her code-switching on track to trap a terrorist? Smart, entertaining, and politically astute, this is fast-paced upper-middle-grade fare from an established author of heist and espionage novels for adults.

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Andréa Hernández-Baldoquín, her parents, and her brother Carlos all work for the International Alternative Intelligence Consortium, better know as "the Factory". They aren't associated with any government, but work to help people of color. Their supervisor, Jerrold, wants to send Andréa and her mother on a mission. Kyle Summer, of Carson, Arizona, is the son of suspected white nationalist terrorist. Even though his father left the family when Kyle was young, the Factory thinks they might be able to get enough information from him to hunt down and arrest the father. Since Andréa is very light skinned, she is supposed to pass as white, and she and her mother arrive in Carson with the story that the two are living at a great aunt's house because the Andrea's (she has people pronounce her name in the Anglo way in her new identity) parents are separating. The first day in her new high school, Andrea is approached by the popular white girls to be in their clique, but she quickly finds a way to connect with Kyle and his best friend Rámon over a card game called Triángulo. Another teen agent, Imani, who is Black, shows up to help, and the two learn enough about the card game to play in tournaments and connect with the guys even more. Andrea ditches the popular girls because she would rather hang out with Kyle and Rámon, and because they have said negative things about Latines in front of her, thinking she was white. Andrea manages to get information from Kyle's computer for her mother to check, and they find an e mail address. The Factory sends the father a message saying Kyle has been hurt, boping to flush him out. Things get more complicated when a woman Kyle's father has been dating sells Andrea a pack of Triángulo cards and ends up meeting Kyle and his mother. There are some mistaken identities, but in the end the Factory determines that Andrea needs to go to the SanDiego ComxCon to finally run the elder Summer to ground. Things get a little complicated when Andrea falls for Rámon, especially when he finds out she is Latine but has been lying about it. Will her relationship with Rámon jeopardize her mission, or will she and Imani be able to keep the ComxCon safe?
Good Points
I love a good spy novel, and this starts out with an exciting mission that involved the whole family, and Andréa being in high school was a good call. It gives her and Imani the opportunity to go out at night and hang out without parents. There is a lot of information about race and culture, and Andréa must really examine her relative privilege of being fairer than many Latine people, as well as examine how she feels about passing. Kyle is gay, but hasn't told anyone but his family and Rámon, since the town of Carson is conservative. Kyle is also very aware, thanks to his close relationship with Rámon's family, of what language should be used to describe certain situations; people aren't "slaves", they are "enslaved people", and he even mentions tryng to be more "woke". The life of a spy is examined a bit, since Andréa is worried about falling for Rámon, and is glad that she can finally have a friend in Imani. The procedures used to hunt down the elder Summer are interesting, and it's exciting to see Andréa save the day. (Don't want to give too many details about that!)

The game of Triángulo had so many descriptions that I thought maybe it was a real game. It doesn't seem to be. The details about the make up and history of the game are culturally interesting and tie in later with the ComxCon. I haven't heard any students talk about another game that's mentioned, Magic: The Gathering for years, but middle school readers who are interested in gaming will find this to be a fascinating part of the book.

This is a more culturally aware spy novel with some similarities to Carter's Gallagher Girls books that also brings in the culture of gaming. I would have liked to see more spy information and less gaming information, but spy novels are always popular with my students, and it's good to see one that is more culturally aware and relevant. I learned from reading this that "Latinx" is not a preferred term because it can be problematic for Spanish speakers to pronounce or use, so I'll have to remember that.
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