Matt de la Pena’s Mexican WhiteBoy, published by Delacorte Books in 2008, is a young adult novel. The main character in the story is sixteen-year-old Danny Lopez who lives in a wealthy northern San Diego county. He is biracial; his mother is white and his father is Mexican. Danny's father left him and his mother, which complicates Danny's sense of identity. Does he belong in white society or Mexican society?
Over the summer, Danny goes to National City, Mexico, to visit with his father’s side of the family and to better understand his absent father and his ancestry. He would like to learn why his father returned to Mexico. Was it because he could not function with Danny as his biracial son? Danny’s questions continue to grow. Ultimately, Danny would like to find his Dad and live with him.
Upon arriving in Mexico, Danny is frustrated because he does not speak Spanish, and he does not feel like he fits in here either. When his cousins introduce him to people in their neighborhood Danny gets punched by a boy named Uno. This initial tension prompts a friendship. Over the summer, Danny and Uno find that they have a lot in common. The two boys find ways to earn money together and share adventures in Mexico. In one telling scene, Uno invites Danny to a place at the bottom of a bridge. A train approaches and Uno instructs Danny to hold onto a pillar really tightly. Uno assures Danny that he will be all right if he holds on tight. The train rambles above them and the pillars shake violently. This is an important scene to show Danny's ability to trust close relationships.
One of the great joys and shared delights among the boys in Mexico is their love of baseball. Danny is an incredibly talented pitcher, so he has much to contribute in this regard. However, he struggles with this too. His uneven pitching is a metaphor for his internal schedules. He has enough talent to be signed by a college recruiter, but he shuts down and loses concentration when he is on the mound. Over time, he “finds” his pitch; he finds his focus.
Critics cite de la Pena’s ability to focus on difficult subject matter such as cutting, the practice of harming one's self. Teenagers will recognize the struggles with identity and the problems with how other people perceive you without yet knowing you. Mexican WhiteBoy was named a Top 10 Pick by the American Library Association.