Claudia Guadalupe Martinez’s Pig Park (Cinco Puntos, 2014) is a contemporary novel that depicts with affection and a light touch a bustling, though little-known, neighborhood in Chicago and an “unholy alliance” between business interests and politicians. Ever since the rendering plant closed in Masi’s Pig Park neighborhood of Chicago, times have been tough for the local businesses tucked behind the plant. Masi’s father and grandmother started Burciaga’s Bakery when they came to Chicago from Mexico 30 years earlier, but now the bakery is losing money. The local councilman, though, has an idea. He has been in contact with a New Mexico businessman, and if all the local businesses can contribute a sizable sum, the businessman will build a Mayan-style pyramid in Pig Park to attract tourists. Overlooking the stereotypes implied in this local “attraction,” Pig Park’s business owners sign on, and construction begins. Masi wants to work outside, but she and the other girls are stuck indoors doing clerical work. Although she has imagined a romantic relationship with her best friend’s older brother, she’s also drawn to the mysterious teenage intern who arrives from New Mexico to help. Her mother, who is ill with diabetes, leaves because the stress is too much. Masi misses her mother, as does her father, and they scheme in their own ways to get her back.
Masi is an engaging and resourceful protagonist who wants to do right by her family and community. Readers will turn the pages, wondering if her mom will return and the bakery and the other local businesses will survive. Things look particularly bleak when Masi finds out that other places that hired the New Mexican businessmen ended up worse off than when they started—and the beneficiaries of their pain turned out to be outside investors tight with the local politicians. Eventually, Masi prevails on both the intern and her father to take matters into their own hands. This is a good book for showing that young people really can take matters into their own hands, bringing about personal and political change through creative action.