Piri Thomas Denise M. Wilms - Essay

Denise M. Wilms

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Stylistically, these storied reminiscences [in Stories from El Barrio] suffer from restraints imposed by a writer not totally at home with a juvenile audience. They also lack the breadth of vision of, say, [Nicholasa Mohr's El Bronx Remembered]…. But there's a pervasive, gut-level honesty that breaks through that thin veneer of stiffness; personalities emerge intact, and pace is fluid. The stories, whether humorous, touching, or tragic, strongly voice their settings; their concerns … sharply present the barrio's multifaceted character. Street language is restrained and unexploitive. This is warm-serious-funny blend, authentic and stronger for it. (pp. 620-21)

Denise M. Wilms, "Children's Books: 'Stories from El Barrio'," in Booklist (reprinted by permission of the American Library Association; copyright 1978 by the American Library Association), Vol. 75, No. 7, December 1, 1978, pp. 620-21.

This lame collection of stories [in Stories from El Barrio] ranges from "The Three Mosquiteers," a callous account of three proud Tenderfoot Boy Scouts and their comedown in the Jersey swamps, to "The Blue Wings and the Puerto Rican Knights," with grimmer content … but a tone that never comes to terms with the material. The flat, first-person reminiscence about a 16-year-old getting all dressed up to impress a visiting girl from Puerto Rico is as vacuous as the character, toward whom Thomas assumes a gently mocking tone. The shameful memory of getting a "konk," or hair-straightening job, deals with a phenomemon of some historical interest, but Thomas' ending fails to make a story of it. There is also a boy's asinine fantasy of a night visit from a flirtatious, mini-skirted old crone and a gay devil (yes, Old Scratch himself), and a sentimental story about two "Amigo Brothers" who must fight each other in a Golden Gloves match. That's all, except for two episodes, both confessions of petty theft, which Thomas puts into verse form perhaps because even he recognizes that there's not enough there for a story.

"Older Fiction: 'Stories from El Barrio'," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1978 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XLVI, No. 24, December 15, 1978, p. 1364.