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The Boy Kings of Texas: A Memoir

3.61  ·  Rating Details ·  2,455 Ratings  ·  411 Reviews
Lyrical and gritty, this authentic coming-of-age story about a border-town family in Brownsville, Texas,
insightfully illuminates a little-understood corner of America.

Domingo Martinez lays bare his interior and exterior worlds as he struggles to make sense of the violent and the ugly, along with the beautiful and the loving, in a Texas border town in the 1980s. Partly a r
Paperback, 456 pages
Published July 3rd 2012 by Lyons Press (first published January 1st 2012)
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Judy Our book club just finished this book. We live 30 miles north of the border with Mexico and many in our group likened it to life in Calexico, CA. I…moreOur book club just finished this book. We live 30 miles north of the border with Mexico and many in our group likened it to life in Calexico, CA. I grew up in Dallas, TX and there is no comparison to my life and Martinez's life. We got tired of his use of the F word; way over used and felt like at times the book was a pitty party for his life. Why didn't he stay GONE??? We appreciated his style and use of other words besides the cuss words and were glad the Mimi's survived.(less)

Community Reviews

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Oct 24, 2012 Janet rated it it was ok
Unable to get my iPhone to sync in my car I tuned to NPR where I caught Martinez’s hilarious response to his memoir receiving a National Book Award nomination. I made an abrupt left turn for Elliott Bay Books and bought it on the spot. What ensued was 5 evenings of colossal disappointment. No stranger to disappointment after 20+ years of marriage, I tend to set the bar a bit higher when I pay to be entertained. Domingo, I want my twenty bucks back.

Martinez chronicles his childhood and adolescen
Erasmo Guerra
Dec 03, 2012 Erasmo Guerra rated it it was amazing
Having grown up in the Rio Grand Valley of South Texas, along the Texas-Mexico border where the bulk of this coming-of-age story is set, I swooned with vertigo at the dizzying accuracy of the landscape, people, culture, politics, violence, poverty, and dark humor that Domingo Martinez depicts in his stunning memoir "The Boy Kings of Texas."

The book should be shelved alongside classics like "The Liars' Club" by Mary Karr. All at once, within these pages, I was back home and feeling all the compli
Gabriela Caballero
Oct 02, 2016 Gabriela Caballero rated it did not like it
I'll be honest and say I was only able to get just a fourth into the book before I had to put it down. I was really excited when I had first heard of the book. I'm also from South Texas and reading narratives about home that have actually made it to mainstream is incredible. Talk about a place in the world that has almost zero representation. This book, however, was very hard for me to digest.

To start with the bare bones, the writing style of the book didn't work for me. It felt like it hadn't
Dec 03, 2012 Colleen rated it liked it
Reading this book was like eaves-dropping on someone's therapy session, which proved to be both moving and frustrating at the same time. I loved the memories of childhood - playful, innocent, sad, angering - so engaging and real in the way June (Domingo) relives some of the happier times and the brutal times. I really had the sense of a child's innocence being chiseled away, big hunks at a time. The teen years were just as moving and maddening. The adults in June's life continue to sabotage his ...more
Silas Hansen
Aug 12, 2012 Silas Hansen rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir

I wanted to love this book -- I heard an excerpt on This American Life and awaited the publication date -- but I just couldn't. The writing almost never went beyond anecdote -- little reflection, few explorations of complications, etc. It just wasn't what I had hoped.
Domingo Martinez
Jun 08, 2012 Domingo Martinez marked it as to-read  ·  (Review from the author)
Review from Kirkus Reviews, The Toughest Book Critics in the World:

Seattle-based Latino journalist Martinez recalls his youthful adventures in the 1980s romping around the border town of Brownsville, Texas.
Though dirt poor, the author’s Mexican-American family continually demonstrated resilience, solidarity and humor. His parents, “children themselves” right out of high school, began having kids in the late-’60s. In a household of “Sisyphean wetbacks” struggling to make ends meet, Martinez was t
Willard's Epiphany
Jun 21, 2012 Willard's Epiphany rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent and very funny read. Epiphany, A Literary Journal published the first three chapters of this book. We are proud that we helped to launch Domingo's writing career. His success is our success. He had never published before we pulled the first three chapters from the slush pile. After our publication he got a spot on NPR's This American Life and more recently a lead review in the Texas Monthly. He is a warm, funny and wonderful human being. Congratulations and good luck Domingo ...more
Teresa Mayfield
Nov 27, 2012 Teresa Mayfield rated it liked it
I heard about this book through the This American Life story about Mr. Martinez’s sisters, “The Mimis”. As I am from Texas and spent my elementary school years in El Paso, the story sounded interesting to me. And it is interesting, but also a sad commentary on more than a few communities, cultures, families, and the state of Texas (and Mexico for that matter). Much of this memoir comes off a bit too movie scene ready, but I feel that some of the story rings with truth. I did not experience direc ...more
Book Concierge
This is a memoir of growing up in Brownsville Texas, near the border with Mexico, in a poor barrio, with few opportunities and even less hope.

There are parts of this memoir that are engaging and funny. I loved the story of slaughtering the pig to make the Christmas tamales, or his sisters dying their hair blonde, and trying to transform themselves into “white” teenagers. But I could not connect with the acting out that the boys engaged in – the fighting, drinking, and drugs.

By way of backgroun
Christina De la Garza
Jun 14, 2016 Christina De la Garza rated it it was ok
I really wanted to enjoy this book. I heard a few excerpts on public radio, and when I finally was able to find the book on Overdrive, I was excited to finally take a crack at it. In this memoir, Martinez recounts his childhood in Brownsville, Texas, a border town where my own husband's family, like Martinez's has been rooted for generations (before the existence of the actual border, in fact). Unfortunately, not all of the anecdotes in this book were as amusing as those broadcast on NPR, the wr ...more
Jan 12, 2013 Jessica rated it it was ok
I don't know, y'all. Maybe memoirs aren't my thing. Maybe this memoir is not my thing. Although the first story (or which ever one it was about the dog) made me sad, I thought I could get into it. And I did for some of the stories. But certainly not all of them.

So this guy had a bad childhood. And he grew up way faster than any child should. And I guess that's part of the makings of a good memoir. I guess that's why Pollyanna didn't have a memoir.

But it got to a point when it was just Too Much f
Nov 05, 2012 Rachel rated it really liked it
I had a hard time getting into this memoir at first because the narrative style was informal to the point of feeling uneven. However, about a hundred or so pages in, I started getting a feel for the book's flow, and things took off from there.

The prose is brutally honest and anything but self conscious--and the narrator's voice shines well beyond the book's apparent inconsistencies. Somehow, Martinez manages to paint a vivid portrait of his particular experiences while still making them feel re
Aug 28, 2012 Ruth rated it it was amazing
Growing up on the Mexican border, I found this book to be very accurate. I loved the "Border Mexican' diction and Spanish/English translations. Martinez has a great creative use of words and ideas. Favorite part was the intellectual discussion of "Where the Wild Things Are". I am amazed that I made it into adulthood. I'm glad that Domingo did and gave me this funny and sad story about life in Brownsville and Seattle. Keep writing.
Aaron Million
Jan 09, 2016 Aaron Million rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
Martinez's book strikes me as part confessional, part psychological release, part horror story, with frequently witty observations spiced in throughout. I am struggling even to write a review of it as it has left me conflicted re: did I like the book or dislike it? I don't know that I can answer definitively either way, except to say that I respect Martinez's effort and final product. I think I will take a different approach in this review and make a few lists.

1. His often astute obs
Mar 28, 2013 Nick rated it liked it
No one I know of has written more astutely of machismo, perhaps because, for much of the book, it is seen from a child's perspective. The title is a reference to a great Mexican anthem: "A stone in the road/said that my destiny/was to roll and roll./Later a traveller told me/that it's not important to be the first to arrive,/but instead to know how to arrive./With money and without money/I always do what I want/And my word is the law./I don't have a throne or a queen/or anyone who understands me ...more
Feb 17, 2016 Arielle rated it did not like it
2015 Reading Challenge - A funny book

After hearing the chapter about the "Two Mimis" on "This American Life", I thought I would love this book. That was definitely not the case. While there were moments of levity and interesting story telling, it was not enough to save the book. The editor seems to have fallen asleep at the wheel, the stories rambled and wandered. The Spanish was atrocious, the spelling, the accent marks, even the translations were off the mark.

Martinez also seemed to conflate
Dan Oko
Jan 12, 2013 Dan Oko rated it it was amazing
This may be my winter of memoirs: Another excellent one here, which could not have been more different in tone, or subject, than Strayed's Wild -- which I read and reviewed last month -- and yet manages to delight and provoke in its own right. Reading this on the heels of the other, I come with a new respect for those willing to lay open their heart on the page. It gives me hope as a writer, as well as a reader. For those who have wondered what it might be like to grow up on the Rio Grande front ...more
Mar 04, 2013 Mickey rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Martinez is a mediocre writer who was blessed with an interesting family that helps this piece along. His family is interesting and so is his upbringing but the book lacks structure. There are so many events he recounts that the reader could've done without. I really enjoyed the last half of the book about his relationship with his brothers but it feels like a completely different book from the rest. Martinez beats you over the head with the theme of the memoir and even though I can relate to a ...more
Jul 06, 2012 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
Amazing stories, you will not be disappointed. Read it. He did it without writing groups, this should be added to your reading group agenda.

I also will be reading incessantly on Friday to learn what becomes of Gramma, a woman so powerful and wise that she takes out insurance policies on men in the family. I'll read to see if she did, definitively, have anything to do with her husband's death. Again I'll experience the anticipation and suspense of crossing of the border with a big gulp left on th
Jul 17, 2014 Kim rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club
Extremely uneven, disappointing, bloated memoir. There's enough potentially interesting material that I can see how it could have made for a decent book, but clearly the editor was MIA on this one. I made it a third of the way through, hoping the author's stories would build to something, but his admissions of writing this while drunk and of not really remembering a lot, his completely inaccurate Spanish spelling ("bien paca" for "ven acá" and "lla" for "ya" stand out), and his self-aggrandizeme ...more
Griselda Castillo
Jul 19, 2013 Griselda Castillo rated it it was amazing
The only bad thing I have to say about this book is that he wrote it before I did!
Mar 31, 2016 Liralen rated it liked it
Perhaps a memoir; perhaps a collection of essays; perhaps a loosely woven set of anecdotes. Martinez grew up in a border town at the tippy tip of Texas, in an environment jam-packed with poverty and dysfunction and racism and machismo and conflict. Good things, too—the family members fighting to keep the family afloat; close ties with some siblings; an eventual understanding of multiple cultures. But mostly these are hard-scrabble hard-knocks hard-everything stories.

All told, I found the book pr
I have read 4 of Erasmo Guerra's own books and loved them all (beyond 5-star love). I could never manage to enumerate all of the positive aspects of these works, so I will simply compliment his marvelous characterizations and the "prose-poetry" nature of his writing. (Okay, as far as character descriptions and the oh-so-lovely flow of Erasmo's writing, I have to specifically mention certain aspects: human beauty, human ugliness, life challenges, insights into inter-family as well as romantic rel ...more
Mark Geisthardt
Sep 17, 2016 Mark Geisthardt rated it it was amazing
Wow! This is a brutally honest book about what was at times a very brutal life, from early on, to later on. The telling of his own story is incredible and insightful. This is an outstanding read.
Jul 02, 2016 Judy rated it liked it
This is really a three and a half star book.
Our book club read the book for our June selection. Living near the Mexican border, several in our group likened Brownsville to Calexico. I grew up in Dallas and had no idea of what life was like in that part of Texas. If this hadn't been a book club book, I doubt I would have ever picked it up to read.
Martinez led a sad, sad life. This is probably one of the most dysfunctional groups of people I have read about in a long, long time. It's a wonder anyo
Apr 15, 2014 Rhys rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quite an interesting read.


Domingo Martinez's use of local color and simple storytelling paints a deep portrait of Mexican American life in Texas.

His struggles with life, from his feelings of isolation and discomfort amongst his peers to the everyday struggles with family are things many can relate to. There are universal themes found throughout society and he captures them in a simple, yet acutely observant way.

Being a Mexican American male from south Texas and having grown u
Jan 22, 2015 Linda rated it liked it
The first three-quarters of The Boy Kings of Texas were humorous despite the brutality of Martinez's poverty and home life in Brownsville, Texas. I've found that in many memoirs, the childhood is looked back upon with a fondness, even if the childhood was horrific by most people's standards. It is the humor in such books as The Boy Kings of Texas and book like Angela's Ashes that makes the horrible situations of childhood bearable. But, as the memoirs move into adulthood, the authors turn bitter ...more
Nov 30, 2012 Ana rated it really liked it
Domingo Martinez give a good rendition of what growing up in South Texas life is like at times. His storytelling style of writing does take some getting used to but effective once you get into the dept of the book. I very much enjoyed this book, it brought back some funny memories of my own and I related to his point of view at times. My favorite part of the book is the way he told the story of his sisters - "the Power of the Mimis" - and their dog.
South Texas as American as it is, is also very
Sharon Huether
Jul 05, 2013 Sharon Huether rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoirs, first-reads
The Boy Kings of Texas: A Memoir by Domingo Martinez Thank you Goodreads for picking my name for this book. Sometimes you have a wonderful dream that you don't want to end. This book was like that. It was so well written and interesting that it shouldn't end. All stories do end though. Domingo painted a picture of he and his family . He thought he was white, but his brother said no. He was a Mexican. He said "Roads in Texas are good for putting distance between bad memories". I learned things ab ...more
Dec 02, 2012 Ivy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
Just finished this book. Will need some days to digest it, but wow. This book appealed to me in equal parts as a literature major, a therapist, and the wife of a Brownsville native. My husband has enjoyed reading a few chapters so far and we sent a copy to his parents, who still live there. Never has someone so accurately captured the ethos down there, and with such brutal honesty. As an outsider to South Texas, there were many aspects of the community that I could not understand or just didn't ...more
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Domingo Martinez lives in Seattle, WA. His work has appeared in Epiphany, and most recently, he read an adaptation of "The Mimis" on This American Life.

He is a 2013 Pushcart Prize nominee.

Mr Martinez has lived in Seattle for nearly 20 years. He lives awkwardly in a small 1930s apartment building on lower Queen Anne, enjoying the absence of sunlight.
More about Domingo Martinez...

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“There is nothing more potentially hostile than the indigenous ego interpreting the laws of his conqueror upon his own people” 14 likes
“The first was to expect crushing disappointment in life, the second was the absolute reliability of loss, and finally, the utter futility of faith” 5 likes
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