Undercover Latina by Aya De Leon

Undercover Latina (The Factory)

Aya De León

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 11, 2022

Pages:

Suitable for ages: 10-14+

Themes: Latino, Culture, Racism, Privilege, Spies, Intelligence organization, Adventure, Diversity   

Opening paragraph: “A grown man is no match for a teenage girl on a skateboard. Even if he’s wearing sneakers and athletic gear. We called this guy El Rubio, because of his pale blond hair, and I was supposed to grab the briefcase from him. Then I’d skate the two blocks from the hotel lobby to where my parents were waiting with the car running, and we’d get away clean.”  

Publisher’s Synopsis:

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. Her parents have been working for the Factory for 20 years. For her first solo mission, Andréa straightens her hair and goes undercover as Andrea Burke, a white girl, to befriend the estranged son, Kyle Summer, 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.

Why I like Undercover Latina:

Aya De León’s Undercover Latina is a gripping and well-executed spy story for both tweens teens. Readers will learn about racism, culture, and passing as white. The plot is timely, heart-stopping at times, packed with action and completely believable in today’s world.  Once I read the opening paragraph (above), I knew I wouldn’t put this book down until I finished it.

The worldbuilding is extraordinary, especially the fantasy gaming world the author invents — Triangulo — a fictional Latin American game. I thought it was a real game because of how she linke it to Comic Com, which gamers will love. De León creates strategies to play the game and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) characters with back stories that are culturally rich. Players use magic to free 17th century enslaved people in the Caribbean as they travel back and forth from past to present. Gamers will find this interesting.

The characters are racially and economically diverse. The Arizona high school Andréa attends is split between the typical “mean” white kids and those of color. Andréa passes for white and assumes the name ANN-drea. She’s befriended by the popular white girls, which causes a lot of inner conflict,  She has to listen to how the white girls label people of color, especially how Latinos .But she is an agent and  she has to keep quiet and cool-headed so she doesn’t blow her cover. She struggles with being true to herself and her culture. She finds her group with nerdy Kyle (white),Rámon (Latino), and Imani (Black) who are deep into the game of Triangulo. Imani is sent by the Factory to help ANN-drea learn the game. Undercover

Undercover Latino is a smart informational and well-written novel that is fast-paced and exciting to read. It is written for upper middle grade and young adult readers. Be sure to read the Author’s Note about her own family experiences as light-skinned Latinos who could and did pass for white. And she “hopes that her book will resonate with readers of all backgrounds and skin tones.” And I hope this novel turns into a series, because there are many more Factory assignments for Andréa.

Aya De León is the AfroLatins author of several suspense novels for adults as well as The Mystery Woman in Room Three, a free serialized online novel about two undocumented Dominican teens who uncover a kidnapping plot to stop the Green New Deal. She teaches creative writing at the University of California, Berkeley, and is active in movements for racial, gender, and climate justice . She lives in Northern Califronia.

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*Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.