Adults are curious creatures, and perhaps a little sad, too. At least, this is what the eponymous hero of this delightful slip of a novel for young adults has concluded.
Tito, a Chilean teenager who lives with his single mother, is still figuring out the world of adults, and wondering whether he really wants to be a part of it. He senses that, in so many ways, life becomes infinitely more complicated, once you enter the portals of adulthood. Moreover, it is a life of sacrifice, giving up things you like to do. Is Tito ready for it? As he stands on the threshold, he is at once attracted, repelled, and confused by…well, simply by the odd ways in which adults behave. Why do they do the things they do?
This novel, translated in a lively, snappy style from the Spanish, takes the form of a young boy’s diary with fairly short entries: brief musings, significant happenings (if any), small anxieties, and his diminutive best friend Vicente’s wise observations on a range of topics (Vicente is a sort of “life coach” for Tito). The longest entry in the diary is the penultimate one. It is a detailed, action-packed description of an important game of football involving the school team, the Los Angeles Rojos. That section is headed, in Obama-esque fashion, Together We Can. Could they? Did they?
There is no doubt that football is the driving force in Tito’s life – that do-or-die impulse that propels him. Whatever his doubts and insecurities – about his parents, girls and passing school tests, mostly – football is the anchor, or rather the pivot. The world is divided into footballers and non-footballers, Tito believes. While “someone who has played ball has an innate vivacity,” non-players are dull, lacking the mental energy and fluidity of movement. Among his other worries, Tito wants the best for his team, and in particular a good manager.
Interestingly, there’s a strong World Cup connection – or coincidence. The thrilling 2018 edition is winding down and we are on the eve of the France/Croatia finals. In Tito, it’s an eccentric immigrant, a manager from Croatia and his daughter, who eventually grab the Los Angeles Rojos by the scruff of the neck. “The Mister’s” motivational talks before games are hilariously clumsy (“to want is to drink” is one of his favorite phrases) and at times unfathomable, but his passion for the game fires up the team. Translating this very bad Spanish into ridiculously bad English was quite a feat, by the way!
Vicente, who is a little older than Tito, helps him navigate his way through life. He offers advice – pearls of wisdom that are sometimes a little off the mark. One curious example is Vicente’s explanation of polygamy, a worryingly contagious disease that some adults succumb to – similar to polio. One of the symptoms is kissing different women, apart from one’s wife. Will the football team’s star striker catch this disease from his father? One hopes not!
The boys have quite a fixation about kissing. It is the key to the adult world, Vicente suggests. Once you have turned that key, you are never the same. That first kiss, on the lips, of course; a peck on the cheek doesn’t count. Tito practices the technique with a piece of pastry (he has a hankering for sweet things, like most adolescents). Does he receive – or deliver – his first kiss? I will not divulge. Importantly, however, the girls in the story are amusing characters, with their own challenges and frailties, and by no means “wallflowers.”
While he awaits this momentous turning point in his life, Tito has another worry: his mother’s new boyfriend Leo. Our hero is touchingly devoted to and protective of his mother and he finds Leo untrustworthy, reacting rudely, even violently to this intrusion in their lives. Will their shared love of football bring them together? Tito is endlessly curious about his father, whom he has never met, but whose absence he feels acutely. One Sunday, he writes: Oh to Have a Father! After questioning his mamá, he is relieved to know that, at least, his papá was not ugly.
Did I mention that this book made me laugh out loud? “Coming of age” stories don’t need to be all agonized soul-searching.
Did I mention also that “the ball is round”? Anything can happen. Anything does.
Tito was launched at the Bocas LitFest in Trinidad and at the Cockburn Gardens Primary and Junior High School in Kingston in April. It is published by Ian Randle Publishers in Jamaica. This is the first time that a Chilean book in Spanish has been translated into English in Jamaica (by K.T. Billey). This was made possible with the support of the Translation Programme for Chilean Works Abroad under the Ministry of Foreign Relations Directorate for Cultural Affairs (DIRAC). The author visited the island last December. He conducted workshops at the University of the West Indies and with the Missionaries of the Poor, who are learning Spanish. He is a journalist, writing for the sports section of La Tercera in Chile (in his youth he was an aspiring footballer). He is the author of El Abanico de Madame Czechowska (Madame Czechowska’s Fan) and La Traición de Borges (The Treachery of Borges), which received the Casa de América Prize in 2005 in Spain. Tito is Simonetti’s first book for children and young adults.