Book Review, LGBQT, YA Fiction

The Mixtape to My Life by Jake Martinez



Justin Ortega might as well be starring in his very own coming-of-age 80s movie. If only he could find his dream boy to pull up in front of his house in a red convertible and sweep him off his feet, already! At seventeen years young, he isn’t quite Mexican enough for his South Texas town; isn’t manly enough for his father; can sometimes be too much of a smart mouth for his mother; and as for the other kids at school—let’s just say he’d be cast as the quiet nerd with a heart of gold…and an ear for music.

The one solace Justin has is his love of 80s hair metal bands, which he listens to on his beloved Sony Walkman. The songs, lyrics, and melody keep him just sane enough to escape the pressures of school and help navigate the hurdles life brings. Especially with the doozy this year is shaping up to be. Not only does he have to try out for a captain position which is rightfully his, but his best friend has found a new girlfriend, leaving Justin to fend for himself in a school where he’s mostly known as simply Coconut.

Enter Dominic Mendoza. Sweet, funny, and a blast from his past, the hunky football player has moved in next door. Justin could never forget how Dominic protected him in the eighth grade, nor the way Dominic made him feel, then…and now.

Except, this isn’t a movie. Confusion, friendship, and love won’t guarantee a happy ending unless Justin can learn to accept himself for who he truly is. Hair bands and all.

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When a teenager’s fantasy of happily ever after is right around the corner, will he embrace his identity to make it come true?

It’s 1994 and Justin Ortega is a poetry writing, marching band nerd who happens to be gay in South Texas. His best friend is a mouthy dork named Benny. And his favorite music is 80’s hair bands. Oh, and did I mention his dad is the football coach? Things are stacked against him for his junior year in high school, but he battles on against the bullying and bigotry by writing in his journal and keeping out of harm’s way until…the gorgeous Dominic moves next door. Dominic is his fantasy hero who protected him from a bully in 8th grade and then moved away. Should he go for it and see what happens or will it be a disaster?

There is a diverse mix of characters in this story and seeing Justin finally find love for the first time is so sweet and uplifting.  Dominic’s kindness and confidence are exactly what Justin needs to open up and show the world what he has to offer. Also, the touching scene with his parents in the car is very well written and impactful.  As for Benny and his new girlfriend, Lila, their support is so important for Justin to find his self-assurance to do what he needs to do.  However, Benny made me angry with his annoying childish attempts at humor and calling Justin a despicable name during an argument. In my opinion, that incident deserved a big apology from Benny to Justin, not the other way around.  

Justin’s mixtapes of 80’s hair bands (Spotify mix) are cleverly tied into the chapter names, and as a band nerd myself, I understood all the competition anxiety and love of marching band.  Overall, this is a sweet coming-of-age debut novel. 

Thank you to Mr. Martinez for giving me the opportunity to read this book with no expectation of a positive review.



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Jake Martinez is a former South Texas resident who has found a new home in Chicago. He has been writing all his life but has only recently sought to be published. His debut novel, The Mixtape to My Life, reflects on life as a gay teen growing up in South Texas. Jake holds an MFA in Creative Writing and also loves to write plays and screenplays. Aside from writing, you can find him hanging out at home with his husband, their toddler son, and an eclectic group of fur babies.

Follow Jake on his website, Twitter, and Instagram.

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