• Review
By – July 27, 2021

Yehu­di Mercado’s new graph­ic nov­el presents two endear­ing char­ac­ters to read­ers mid­dle-grade and old­er. Hudi is a bright, fun­ny kid with lit­tle ath­let­ic abil­i­ty but incred­i­ble charm and intel­li­gence. He is also both Jew­ish and Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can, liv­ing with his work­ing class fam­i­ly in Hous­ton, Texas. To add anoth­er chal­lenge, ongo­ing health prob­lems have caused his well-mean­ing par­ents to have con­cerns about Hudi’s weight. In response to all of these dilem­mas, the artis­tic Hudi cre­ates a car­toon mas­cot, Chunky, to help him through the stress­es of base­ball, foot­ball, and every oth­er sport pro­posed to improve his health. Hudi and Chunky’s ongo­ing dia­logue com­bines humor and intro­spec­tion, allow­ing Hudi to devel­op the self-accep­tance that he needs to survive.

The book is orga­nized into chap­ters based on Hudi’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in each dif­fer­ent sport, fol­lowed by a Postgame Wrap-Up.” This struc­ture not only main­tains a con­sis­tent theme through­out Hudi’s sto­ry, but it also allows Hudi and Chunky to engage in an ongo­ing exchange about the mean­ing of each event in Hudi’s life. Exag­ger­at­ed car­toon-like images and rapid action scenes advance the sto­ry, along with qui­eter seg­ments about Hudi’s fam­i­ly and his med­ical con­di­tion. By break­ing the fourth wall, Hudi and Chunky step out of the book, reveal­ing its mech­a­nisms and con­sid­er­ing whether they are work­ing effec­tive­ly. When fic­tion­al Chunky asks real-life Hudi how the chap­ter went, Hudi responds that it went well, and that the real MVP was Chunky.” Read­ers are invit­ed to iden­ti­fy with Hudi’s phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al dif­fi­cul­ties and also to par­tic­i­pate in his devel­op­ment as an author and artist.

Each sport offers a new ter­ror, and some­times a new oppor­tu­ni­ty. Swim­ming expos­es the scar result­ing from Hudi’s surgery to remove a lung, while foot­ball has the iron­ic effect of pos­si­bly reward­ing Hudi’s large phys­i­cal size. Noth­ing is com­plete­ly pre­dictable in Hudi’s world, least of all the respons­es of adults in author­i­ty. His par­ents are sym­pa­thet­ic, lov­ing peo­ple, although they often fail to grasp the pres­sures placed on Hudi as they strug­gle to keep him well. There is no bit­ter­ness in Mercado’s account; annoy­ing sib­lings, fright­en­ing bul­lies, and obtuse coach­es are all just humans oper­at­ing with­in a par­tic­u­lar set of cir­cum­stances. The over­whelm­ing gen­eros­i­ty of Hudi’s expla­na­tions for every­thing that hap­pens to him is one of the book’s defin­ing qualities.

Per­for­mance, suc­cess­ful and oth­er­wise, is at the cen­ter of Hudi’s life. He aspires to be an actor and come­di­an, but he is repeat­ed­ly cast against type as an ath­lete. His sister’s bat mitz­vah also forces him to play a chal­leng­ing role, from recit­ing prayers in pub­lic to danc­ing at the recep­tion. Mean­while, his family’s finan­cial prob­lems lurk in the back­ground of this sup­pos­ed­ly joy­ful event. No won­der that Hudi asso­ciates a degree of des­per­a­tion” with the whole project. Mer­ca­do suc­ceeds in weav­ing Hudi’s Jew­ish­ness into all the ways in which he feels dif­fer­ent. As in every oth­er part of the book, ambiva­lence is part of the pic­ture; Hudi accepts the real­i­ty of a sit­u­a­tion in which he has no choice but uses humor and flex­i­bil­i­ty to adapt it as his own. Young read­ers, whether or not they have faced a bru­tal sports match or inse­cu­ri­ties about their appear­ance, will relate to Hudi and Chunky’s quest to thrive.

This high­ly rec­om­mend­ed graph­ic nov­el includes a note to the read­er, explain­ing the book’s auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal premise.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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