Famous All Over Town
is a 1983 young adult novel by Danny Santiago, the pen name of American author Daniel Lewis James. Set on the eastside of Los Angeles, California, it follows fourteen-year-old Rudy Medina who comes from a Mexican-American family. Rebellious but principled, Rudy comes of age in poverty and claims his own larger-than-life identity. The novel’s initial success led it to be named as a great contribution to “Chicano literature,” and Rudy Medina became a role model for many Mexican-American youth. However, when it became publicly known that Danny Santiago was the pen name of James, a white man, he and his work were criticized for cultural appropriation. Interestingly, many Hispanic fans continue to celebrate the work as an accurate reflection of their experiences.
The novel begins as Rudy Medina is heading home down his neighborhood’s main road, drunk after celebrating the eve of his birthday. When he wakes up the next morning, his father gifts him a knife meant to symbolize the value and seriousness of hard work. Rudy looks up to his father, who is highly respected in their community. His father encourages him to slay a chicken to commemorate his transition into adulthood. Instead of killing the chicken in an orthodox fashion, he takes his father’s gun and shoots it. The sound of the gunshot terrifies their neighbors, who assume the worst: that someone has been murdered. This is a defining coming-of-age moment for Rudy.
Rudy, his three siblings, and their mother and father barely scrape by financially. To make matters worse, Rudy’s parents learn that they are expecting another child. Many people place undue shame on Rudy’s mother, stereotyping her as irresponsible. Rudy’s oldest sister, Lena, is one of the first to find out; she demands to know why their mother chose to conceive another child when they can’t make ends meet. She berates her for not caring for the children she has already brought into the world.
A few months later, Rudy starts experiencing strange bodily pains. At first, he tries to ignore them, going to school as usual. However, they intensify until one day at school he nearly falls over in agony. He goes home and lies on the couch to try to wait it out, but then his mother starts showing signs that she will give birth soon. Lena and Mr. Medina call the doctor. Mrs. Medina tells them not to summon medical help because the bill will be too high; instead, she plans to wait until she is in labor, because it will force the doctors to come for free. She goes into painful labor and the doctors arrive to help her through childbirth. One of the attending doctors, noticing that Rudy is unwell, diagnoses him with appendicitis. Rudy is rushed to the hospital, where the staff finds that the appendix has ruptured, putting him in a life-threatening position. Luckily, he is cared for by a kind and competent doctor, Mr. Penrose, who gives him companionship during his stay.
Rudy’s father comes to get him from the hospital after he recovers fully from surgery. When he gets home, Lena surprises him with a renovation made to his bedroom that makes it more comfortable. Over the coming months, their mother becomes increasingly neglectful of the family, even seeming to get bored with her new baby. The family is hit with a large medical bill. Dr. Penrose offers to pay it off, but Mr. Medina stubbornly refuses to accept charity.
Rudy’s parents decide to sell the house and move to a less expensive location. Lena, fed up with them, moves in with her boyfriend, Armando. When Mr. Medina sells the house, he announces the good news, but it doesn’t please any of the kids. Mrs. Medina splits from the family and leaves with a suitcase. Angered that his parents seemingly do not care about their children’s well-being, but without anyone to retaliate against, Rudy resorts to vandalizing the bank that processed the sale of his home. The police catch him but find that they cannot send him to live with either of his parents, because they are poor and neglectful. At the end of the novel, Rudy moves in with Lena. The two look hopefully toward their futures as young adults, intent on using their newfound independence to make their lives better for themselves.