Saldaña, René, Jr.
Saldaña, René, Jr.
Born in McAllen, TX; married; wife's name Tina; children: Lukas, Mikah. Education: Bob Jones University, B.A.; Clemson University, M.A.; Georgia State University, Ph.D. (English and creative writing).
Author and educator. University of Texas-Pan American, Edinburgh, assistant professor of English; Texas Tech University, Lubbock, assistant professor of language and literacy, 2006—. Also taught middle school and high school in Texas for six years.
Humanities Texas grant.
The Jumping Tree (novel), Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Finding Our Way (stories), Wendy Lamb Books (New York, NY), 2003.
The Whole Sky Full of Stars (novel), Wendy Lamb Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor of stories to anthologies, including Face Relations: Stories from beneath the Skin, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2004, Every Man for Himself: Stories about Being a Guy, Dial Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2005; Make Me Over: Eleven Stories about Transformation, Dutton (New York, NY), 2005; Guys Write for GUYS READ, Viking (New York, NY), 2005; and Owning It: Stories about Teens with Disabilities, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2008. Contributor of stories, poems, and reviews to periodicals, including Boy's Life, Southwestern American Literature, Multicultural Review, and American Book Review.
René Saldaña, Jr., is the author of critically acclaimed fiction for young adults, including the novels The Jumping Tree and The Whole Sky Full of Stars. Saldaña's short stories and novels are loosely based on the author's experiences growing up in southern Texas near the U.S.-Mexico border. A native of McAllen, Texas, Saldaña was raised in nearby Nuevo Peñitas, a town that often serves as the setting for his tales. His writings also reflect his Hispanic heritage: Saldaña's mother and father were both born in Mexico.
Saldaña's debut novel, The Jumping Tree, was inspired by his years as a middle-school and high school teacher in Texas. While helping his students prepare for the essay portion of the state exam, Saldaña decided to eschew the prescribed topics and instead have them write personal narratives. To provide his students with examples, he began telling stories from his own life, which he later recorded and published.
A series of interrelated vignettes, The Jumping Tree centers on Rey Castenada, a Mexican-American boy living in a Texas border town. The work follows Rey from sixth through eighth grade, during which the youth experiences bigotry, learns to question authority, and struggles with what it means to be a man. "Saldaña has immersed the reader in the texture and detail of hardscrabble family life," observed New York Times Book Review contributor Patrick Markee. Gillian Engberg, writing in Booklist, noted that the author's "lively, poignant work … asks universal questions while remain- ing culturally specific, filled with Chicano language and customs." In The Jumping Tree, according to School Library Journal critic Gail Richmond, "Saldaña draws extended family together and binds one boy's growth into manhood with real emotion and believable events."
Saldaña's next work, the short-story collection Finding Our Way, focuses on a group of adolescents in Georgia and Texas. Comparing Finding Our Way with his earlier novel, the author told Kim Underwood in the Winston-Salem Journal that the story collection "is rawer and not as pretty.… It's not a pretty life that these young people lead these days." In the story "Alternative," for example, Arturo is expelled from school for using illegal drugs and sent to an alternative center; "Manny Calls" concerns a young man who compulsively dials the phone number of his deceased grandfather; and "The Dive" centers on a girl who attempts to prove her maturity through a dangerous rite of passage. "With a deft touch, the author creates a clear, concise picture of time and place," Richmond stated, and a Publishers Weekly contributor noted that Saldaña "adroitly extracts meaning from quiet moments of reflection, illustrating the emotional states of his protagonists as they approach crossroads."
In The Whole Sky Full of Stars Saldaña "delivers another moving coming-of-age novel about the perils of friendship and the burdens of parental expectations," according to Booklist reviewer Bill Ott. When Barry Esquivel learns that his best friend, Alby Alonzo, has incurred large gambling debts, he reluctantly agrees to enter a local boxing competition, hoping to split the prize money with Alby and his own widowed mother. Writing in Kliatt, Janis Flint-Ferguson described The Whole Sky Full of Stars "as a morality tale of sorts, illuminating the importance of honesty and family and best friends."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 9, 2001, Rick Badie, "Life's Lessons in a First Book," p. J1.
Booklist, May 15, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of The Jumping Tree, p. 1747; November 15, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of The Jumping Tree, p. 567; February 15, 2003, Ed Sullivan, review of Finding Our Way, p. 1065; March 15, 2007, review of Bill Ott, review of The Whole Sky Full of Stars, p. 48.
Book Report, November-December, 2001, Barbara Siegel, review of The Jumping Tree, p. 66.
Horn Book, March-April, 2003, Susan P. Bloom, review of Finding Our Way, p. 216.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2003, review of Finding Our Way, p. 66; January 15, 2007, review of The Whole Sky Full of Stars, p. 81.
Kliatt, March, 2007, Janis Flint-Ferguson, review of The Whole Sky Full of Stars, p. 18.
New York Times Book Review, September 16, 2001, Patrick Markee, review of The Jumping Tree, p. 27.
Publishers Weekly, February 3, 2003, review of Finding Our Way, p. 76.
School Library Journal, June, 2001, Gail Richmond, review of The Jumping Tree, p. 155; March, 2003, Gail Richmond, review of Finding Our Way, p. 237; July, 2005, Coop Renner, review of The Jumping Tree, p. 45; May, 2007, Marie Orlando, review of The Whole Sky Full of Stars, p. 142.
Winston-Salem Journal, August 22, 2004, Kim Underwood, "Deep Roots, Strong Hold," p. F1.
Papertigers.org,http://www.papertigers.org/ (September, 2007), Jeannine Stronach, review of The Whole Sky Full of Stars.
René Saldaña Web log,http://www.renesaldanajr.blogspot.com (January 1, 2008).
Teenreads,http://www.teenreads.com/ (December 20, 2007), Ashley Hartlaub, review of Finding Our Way, and Jana Siciliano, review of The Whole Sky Full of Stars.
Texas Tech University Web site,http://www.ttu.edu/ (December 20, 2007), "René Saldaña."