By: Justine Fontes
Publisher: Daryb Creek
Publication Date: March 2011
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: March 2011
Benito loved to play soccer with his father because it gave him a sense of closeness, but after his father, Xavier, was deployed to Iraq he practiced with his friend, Dustin. Benito "Benny" was now the “man of the house,” but he wasn’t very strict with his younger sister, Armida. Things got done when they got done and it was no big deal. His Mom wanted him to write letters to his Dad and they often sent packages. Things weren’t the same without him and Benny often worried that he would die in combat, but when they received notice he was coming home it was better than Christmas. Not. Soon his best friend Steve Jones would be telling him to quit stressing. Things would change and the holiday atmosphere changed the moment his Dad walked through the door. He was very distant and his smile was gone. Something was wrong, terribly wrong.
The screams began the first night he was home, shattering the peace of the house. Benny and Armi heard their mother try to waken their father gently by talking to him and telling him “It’s just a dream.” Xavi was a man who had changed and brought fear and anger into a once joyful household when he began to rage and turned the house into “Platoon Rodriguez.” No doubt the neighbors could hear the tumult through the walls. He had been a model father Benny enjoyed being around and wanted to emulate, but now he just wanted to get away from him.
Benny began to sell tickets for the Bowling Night fund-raiser as a way to disassociate from his home life. His mother struggled to put food on the table while his father stayed home to talk army and run the platoon. There was little for Benny and Armi to do but steer clear of him. Bowling Night arrived and the entire Platoon Rodriguez, along with half of Southside High, crowded into the alley. His father quickly grew sullen and nervous, complaining about the expense of the “zapatos feos.” A few dollars was nothing for bowling shoes, but the best show of the night was yet to come when his crazy father began to shout, “Camel spiders! They get in your boots at night. They get as big as your fist.” Would Benny ever be able to live with the embarrassment of having a crazy for a father? Was running away the only way to escape this madness?
This is a powerful, poignant story of Benny, a teenager who has difficulty coping with his father’s PTSD. This short volume deals quite well with the stressful problems created when Xavier, a returning soldier affected with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, returns to his family. It is quite clear there is no parade held for this troubled man, nor anyone rushing to the aid of the children. Benny, a boy who dearly loved his father, like many teens, does not know where to turn when his father “disappears” when he relives the horror of his experiences in Iraq. I gained a better understanding of the problem, especially when Benny was teased and claims, “I wanted to be Benito, not Camel Spider.”
Quill says: This is a somewhat heartrending look PTSD and the effect it has on a family, but is one you should consider!