Boy Kings of Texas: A Memoir

by Domingo Martinez

Paperback, 2012

Call number




Lyons Press (2012), Edition: 1st Edition, 456 pages


Biography & Autobiography. Nonfiction. HTML: A lyrical and authentic book that recounts the story of a border-town family in Brownsville, Texas in the 1980's, as each member of the family desperately tries to assimilate and escape life on the border to become "real" Americans, even at the expense of their shared family history. This is really un-mined territory in the memoir genre that gives in-depth insight into a previously unexplored corner of America..

User reviews

LibraryThing member eduscapes
Often violent, painful and sometimes poignant, this memoir of Domingo Martinez is about his growing up in dusty squalor and poverty of Brownsville, TX. His young life is filled with fighting; brutal conflicts with his macho father and neighboring relatives. His mother seems unsupportive and
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distant. Abuse leads to alcohol, drugs, and outrage. Sometimes ugly, rough and crude - - but throughout this biography, there is honesty and a glimmer of the author's talent and aptitude. Dysfunctional families are still family, and the bonds are strong.

The book was a finalist for The National Book Award and the Pushcart Prize. Highly recommended. (lj)
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LibraryThing member JamesAldrete
What does it mean to be Hispanic? There is no one answer to this, and that’s the beautiful thing.

Domingo Martinez’ memoir is just that, a personal story, but while his experiences are not universally shared among Hispanics, his themes are — the importance of family (even when it’s
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dysfunctional), the desire for acceptance and the instinct to protect one’s own on the path to claiming our Americaness.

Martinez writes musically — literally. He kicks off with the hidden meanings of a Jose Alfredo Jimenez corrido, made famous by Vicente Fernandez, features cameos with accordionist Esteban Jordan and Tejano crossover star Freddy Fender, whose Mexican afro is enshrined on a San Benito water tower, and all from the perspective of a border Mexican kid sporting a Cure concert t-shirt.

While he desperately wants to escape Brownsville — a city we have a fondness for — the fact is there is a little bit of Brownsville in every town. One of the many reasons why we think you’ll enjoy this amazing work.

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LibraryThing member Hebephrene
Since it was up against such heavy hitters for the National Book Award you ask yourself, could it really be that good? Not only is Martinez unsparing but he gives you this astonishingly complete 360 degree vision of his life in Brownsville, Texas growing up. The characters, his family mostly, but
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also the kids he knew in the barrio, keep reappearing. You can talk about a writer's material as a geographical world and to a surprising extent Martinez stakes his claim to a world he hated, defining it and analyzing and its affect on him. The technique varies from directly confessional to more digressive and lyrical and there are wonderful stories (again often motivated by his disgust) such as his father's first foray in marijuana smuggling that are as hilarious as they are sad. It is a long book but it never faltered, it kept giving and giving, the themes reappearing with each reprise adding something.
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
A finalist for the National Book Award in 2012, The Boy Kings of Texas is a memoir of Martinez's childhood in a rural barrio outside of Brownsville, Texas and his escape to Seattle, Washington as he tries to transition into adulthood. Martinez captures moments of his life in rich and vivid detail.
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He has an incredibly dysfunctional relationship with his father, who he refers to as a reverse compass, and often struggles to find his place amidst the violence of barrio life. But he tells his story with a light touch, finding humor in difficult moments. While Martinez's skill as a writer shone through in his descriptions of the moments of his life, for me, the story never came together to create a coherent whole. Martinez jumps around a bit, and even as he escapes Texas for a life in Brownsville, it feels as if the same moments repeat again and again. It is not until the last couple of chapters that we get a sense of how the moments have shaped the man.
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LibraryThing member muddyboy
From the barrio of south Texas to Seattle you will experience the roller coaster life of Mr. Martinez through fights, drinking, dysfunctional family gatherings to unworkable love affairs. There is a father with very few redeemable qualities, a conniving and manipulative grandmother, a brother who
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is always fighting for the family name and the safe harbor of a mother who helps Domingo try to navigate through this minefield of experiences. This book would make Ozzie and Harriet Nelson squirm with tension. I can certainly see why the National Book Awards named it a finalist and it is a book you will be talking about with your friends. The book is well written and will certainly haunt after you put it down.
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LibraryThing member zmagic69
An inside look at life in the barrio in a border town in Texas. The author notes in a number of sections of the book he sees a therapist. After reading about his life growing up it is amazing he doesn't spend everyday in therapy. Throughout the story the author is somehow able to keep a sense of
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humor as he describes his stewed up extensive family, what is considered normal for him is nearly impossible to believe. This was a great story, of an amazing man.
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LibraryThing member Hagelstein
Domingo Martinez grew up in Brownsville, Texas as part of an extended, dysfunctional Mexican-American family. In this engaging memoir he tells what it was like to have a “boy-tyrant” for a father and a grandmother he believed was the devil. She took life insurance policies out on all the young
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men in the family – and collected often enough that each time “was like winning the lottery again.”

As an adult Martinez moved to Seattle to “follow the rain” which reminded him of some of the best times of his “seasonally deficient” youth on the border, which featured one season – hot. Martinez knew early he wanted to leave Brownsville before he fell into the trap most young men did: “The boys never left home; they just brought their illegitimate children and unhappy wives along for the only ride they knew, the one that headed nowhere.”

Martinez tells of his later problems with addiction and alcohol and how his family life contributed. This is a witty, compelling memoir that doesn’t shy away from deep emotion and even embarrassing moments.
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LibraryThing member jennyo
I picked this book up in the San Jose airport a couple of weeks ago. It was good enough that I finished half of it on the plane. Took me a little while to finish the rest of it because I snuck Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson in, and I had a ton of homework to do. But I stayed up late last night and
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finished it.

The book was nominated for the National Book Award. That's not what made me pick it up though. I've been reading and thinking a lot about social justice. And since I happen to live in Texas where the Hispanic/Latino population continues to grow at a rapid pace, I thought a memoir about growing up poor and Hispanic in Brownsville would make for an interesting read. It did. Not an easy one, though Martinez is funny, and a great storyteller, because his story is tough. Lots of abuse. Completely dysfunctional family. Love and hurt coexist in Martinez's family in the same way they do for many people. Sometimes it's good to just know you're not alone in your feelings, so you put your story out there. I feel like that's what Martinez has done. Writing the book seems like it might have been therapeutic for him. And I'm sure it has resonated with a lot of readers.

Good book. Worth picking up if you like memoirs.
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LibraryThing member BookConcierge
This is a memoir of growing up in Brownsville Texas, near the border with Mexico, in a poor barrio, with few opportunities and even less hope.

There are parts of this memoir that are engaging and funny. I loved the story of slaughtering the pig to make the Christmas tamales, or his sisters dying
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their hair blonde, and trying to transform themselves into “white” teenagers. But I could not connect with the acting out that the boys engaged in – the fighting, drinking, and drugs.

By way of background, I grew up in a Mexican-American household, with a father who was born in Mexico, and a mother who was born in a border-town on the Texas side of the Rio Grande – the same town where I was born and where my grandparents and most of my aunts and uncles stayed to raise their families. I recognized some of the setting, traditions, and cultural mores Martinez relates. But on the whole I felt as disenfranchised from the experiences he relates, as he states he felt. The families I knew were cohesive; the parents working menial jobs, perhaps, but staying together in love and faith to raise children who would succeed.

I kept waiting for some insight, and never got it. I wanted to understand this all-consuming need to express machismo, but could only shake my head and think “not again!” So I’m left disappointed and dissatisfied. I felt I was reading the rambling notes of a journal his therapist suggested he keep, rather than a cohesive memoir.
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National Book Award (Finalist — Nonfiction — 2012)




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