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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
The Mixtape to My Life is a young adult coming of age novel written by Jake Martinez. As far as Justin was concerned, band camp made the hell that was August in South Texas even more hellish. Justin’s mom wondered why he seemed so glum as she was driving him to school, but she didn’t realize just what the next two weeks would mean for him. He’d be subjected to band directors’ abuses and whims, as well as being at the mercy of the other drummers who loved to bully him. Justin did love percussion, especially cymbals, and had been in a band since he was in sixth grade. And while his parents would really have rather had him playing on the football team, Justin particularly loved the fact that being in the band meant he didn’t have to take P.E. and never had to set foot in the boys’ locker room.
The Mixtape to My Life is the consummate summer read even if you’ve not been a young adult for some time now. Seventeen-year-old Justin Ortega has to be one of my all-time favorite coming of age characters. I was quickly drawn in by his feelings of isolation even as his mixtapes kept me feeling upbeat and optimistic. Could their junior year in high school be the big game-changer? Martinez answers this question so very eloquently in this story that’s impossible to put down and is, optimally, read very slowly to keep it going as long as possible. Martinez conveys the alienation of LGBTQ youths who can only bear mute witness to the romances their straight peers are caught up in. He gets the tension they feel at not being exactly what their parents had in mind for them, and the fear they have that coming out could seriously endanger their lives. Seeing how Justin navigates band camp and life is an exhilarating and profound thing. Martinez's story moves as fluidly as one of Justin’s mixtapes. It’s well-written, and the characters seem so very real. My only regret was that I did eventually reach the last page. I had a marvelous time getting to know Justin Ortega and would love to see a sequel to Mixtape. The Mixtape to My Life is most highly recommended.