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A look behind the words of Kerouac, the story of a norteño duo and more

Out of Their Minds: The Incredible and (Sometimes) Sad Story of Ramón and Cornelio

by Luis Humberto Crosthwaite; Translated by John William Byrd

Cinco Punto Press

167 pages, $14.95 paper.

So you've got two music-loving, young guys knocking around Tijuana who decide they want to become a famous band and impress girls. Since it's just the two of them, they go for a norteño duo. They flip for instruments. Ramon wins accordion; Cornelio settles to be the bajo sexto player and picks up fundamentals from a Mel Bay manual. Having learned a few songs, they begin the rounds of bars. Things don't go swimmingly; girls don't flock. Things look up, though, on the fateful day that Cornelio gets the chance to sell his soul. To God.

This new translation of the Luis Humberto Crosthwaite novel is a riotous collage of "interviews," narrative, conversations, song lyrics, illustrations fit for a graphic novel, the musings of God, and (got a Spotify app?) oldies of Mexican and American music available via a QR code inside the front cover. The book's a hoot. And fame and the girls? Be careful what you ask for, guys.

To Sin Against Hope

by Alfredo Gutierrez

Verso

256 pages, $24.95.

This book you wouldn't call a hoot. A howl, maybe. Longtime Arizona politician Alfredo Gutierrez lays out the history of Latino migration and the efforts to stanch it and limit workers' and Latinos' rights within U.S. and the state.

In To Sin Against Hope, Gutierrez filters some of the book through his own experience. Born and raised in Miami, Arizona, pressured to "Americanize," the son of an American miner who was nonetheless deported to Mexico in the "anti-immigrant hysteria" of the '30s, he became politicized early.

At ASU in the '60s, he helped organize a group that took over the president's office demanding fair pay for laundry workers. He demonstrated with Cesar Chavez. At 25, he was elected to the Arizona State Senate, and soon became its youngest ever majority leader. Gutierrez weighs in on governors and U.S. presidents, racist politics, and assimilationist groups, and he waxes enraged over legislation clearly aimed at the Mexican-American minority. Janet Napolitano doesn't come off well here, nor does Barack Obama, to whom Gutierrez attributes unprecedented detentions and deportations. It's articulate, no-holds-barred, culture-rights stuff.

Mañana Means Heaven

by Tim Z. Hernandez

The University of Arizona Press

227 pages, $14.95 hardcover.

Youthful rebellion, attraction to the forbidden, the romance of the road—they all bring generation after generation of readers back to Jack Kerouac. Probably few On the Road readers think about the other side of Kerouac's adventure: those he encountered ... and then wrote about. Poet, novelist, performance artist, and American Book Award recipient Tim Z. Hernandez does in Mañana Means Heaven. He set out to find the unknown subject of Kerouac's "Mexican Girl," from the novel, and he just might have found her. Not "Terry," but Bea Franco, 90 years old and living in Fresno in 2010. In this intimate, historically and culturally rich novel, from Franco's letters to Kerouac and from interviews with her, Hernandez explores and imagines another side of the Beat Generation's quintessential road trip.

In 1947, fed up with her husband's infidelities and physical abuse, 27-year-old Bea checks on her little boy, loads clothes in a bag, and steals away from her Central California migrant community to seek a new life in Los Angeles. On the Greyhound, Bea meets a good-looking, young white guy with a habit of scribbling in a notebook, and, on a whim, takes up with him. They would have a 15-day affair which included running out of money and resorting to Bea's fallback migrant farm work to earn more to travel East on. Inevitably the expectations between the Eastern college boy and the California migrant worker diverge, and Kerouac's casual indulgence is not without pain. Hernandez frames the fiction with two meetings with Bea Franco. They're quite touching. So is the story.

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