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The Boy Kings of Texas: A Memoir

3.58 of 5 stars 3.58  ·  rating details  ·  2,046 ratings  ·  361 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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The Boy Kings of Texas by Domingo MartinezThis Is How You Lose Her by Junot DíazThe Round House by Louise ErdrichBilly Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben FountainThe Passage of Power by Robert A. Caro
National Book Award Finalists - 2012
1st out of 20 books — 59 voters
Naked by David SedarisThe Boy Kings of Texas by Domingo MartinezSquirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David SedarisSleepwalk With Me and Other Painfully True Stories by Mike BirbigliaTake the Cannoli by Sarah Vowell
This American Life
2nd out of 98 books — 37 voters

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Community Reviews

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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
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
Jody Scott-Olson
I caught a segment of this on a public radio program titled "This American Life". Fantastic read.
Nancy Oakes
I seemed to have enjoyed this book much more than a number of readers did; a 3.75 rating rounded to a 4. Some people see it as "whiny," and one Amazon reader seems to have missed the point of the book altogether slamming the author for writing about his family trying to be white. hmmm. Well, let me say this: Boy Kings of Texas didn't at all come across as whiny to me; and while there is quite a lot of airing his family's linen in public, that's not the overall thrust of this book. Keep reading ...more
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

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
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
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
Gabriela Caballero
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 this book. I'm also from South Texas and reading narratives about home that have actually made it to mainstream press always makes me incredibly excited. 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 personally. It felt like it hadn't seen an editor - and a lot of
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
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
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.
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
Dan Oko
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
Micealaya Moses
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
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
Griselda Castillo
The only bad thing I have to say about this book is that he wrote it before I did!
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
Sharon Huether
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
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
Gabriel Oak
I picked this up after hearing Martinez read a portion of it for a segment on "This American Life." Martinez is a gifted storyteller, and portions of his memoir about growing up in south Texas are gripping. But I had two pretty big gripes with the book. The first was the way that Martinez seemed to blame Mexican culture in general for all of the negative aspects of his childhood family life, particularly his father's abusiveness, which Martinez portrays as typical Mexican machismo. I found this ...more
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
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
Update 10.22.12 Thoughts so far -- I find it interesting that in this book the author battles the effects of the machista male culture he inherited from his Latino father, grandfather and uncles, from a Mexican-American perspective. There is more there, of course, there's the push and pull of two very different cultures and how this can tear apart, confuse or have an adverse effect on the lives of that first generation born in America. There's also the amazing sub-culture and different world fou ...more
I had never heard of this memoir until I listened to an interview with Domingo Martinez on The Diane Rehm Show a couple of weeks ago. I was immediately captivated by the story, the author's insight into his own life, as well as his sense of humor. The book did not disappoint! I really like Martinez's writing style and was drawn into his story. I can even imagine teaching this memoir in future classes (I'm an aspiring English teacher...) because it offers a look into a culture that isn't always r ...more
Paul Mullen
Maybe I'm just tired of reading memoirs of people who lived broken childhoods and then grew up to be still broken but more mature in their brokenness.

The stories are interesting. The writing style is refreshing. The mix of Spanish and English was a terrific flavoring. The use of f--k and drugs is probably realistic, but deafening after a while.

If you're in the mood to feel sorry for people and to experience some great writing, this is a good one. If you want to learn and grow and mature yoursel
I had readied myself to read The Boy Kings Of Texas, armored with the knowledge that memoirs of this nature can be brutally stark. I expected it and didn't wait long. What I didn't expect was the beautiful wordsmith that eclipsed the bitter episodes and kept me fully engaged and in the moment with every character. The writing is spectacularly descriptive in a way that makes people and events as palpable as written words can get. The authors grasp of grace and forgiveness in the face of human fra ...more
There are a very small number of books that I refer back to, books that linger with me. Memoirs occupy a large share of this mental space, which seems natural; a well written memoir is honest storytelling at its best. A well written memoir has heart. It's a glimpse into someone else's life.

This book was remarkable mainly by being unremarkable; the author is never shrill, there's no "but I suffered so much!" or any clamor for pity or emotion. The tone of the book is like west Texas: there is a dr
Freddy Fender
Each chapter is a story. Some of the stories are very engaging. Others, however, are poorly written and poorly connected with other parts of the book. The virtues and shortcomings of the book largely overlap. On the one hand, readers can admire the author's honesty, self-deprecation, and undeniable talent. One can also admire that this is not a traditional narrative arc in which the protagonist moves from rags to riches or from abject misery to resounding success. It's real life. In a sense. And ...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...
My Heart Is a Drunken Compass: A Memoir Domingo Martinez En La Estela de Murillo: Centro Cultural El Monte, Sevilla, Mayo-Junio 2004

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