His full name is Manuel—just like his dad—but we all know this dude as Manny. He's our main man in this book, and when we meet him, he's a teenager from a big family who's just trying to find his way in the world. But Manny isn't just our main man; he's our storyteller, too. And this means that we get a super personal look at his life as he lives it.
Manny might be running our show, but he can still be pretty filled with fear. In fairness, though, there's tons for him to be afraid of—just trying to count up the number of times Manny gets punched, humiliated, or both has us seeing spots. And because of this, it makes sense that fear comes pretty readily to him. He's given reasons to be afraid on the regular, whether it's thanks to a beating courtesy or the Garcia brothers or because his dad's on (another) drunken rampage.
Manny's fear isn't always about violence, though. He's also pretty afraid of the ladies. And this means that when he's looking ahead to Dorothy's party, he's just a big ole bundle of nerves:
I'd stare hard into the mirror and order myself over and over to be strong . . . be a man! But then a cold fluttering would begin in the pit of my chest and before I could stop it, it'd spurt up a misty burning in my throat and eyes. My mind was speeding anxiously, gobbling up whole chunks of anticipation. (9.92)
Just look at all that fear—even though Manny tells himself to suck it up and get over it, he just can't get past all the nerves. Did you notice how Manny doesn't seem to be able to control how his body reacts to fear? He might tell himself not to be afraid, but it's just not good enough. Instead, he's feeling "cold fluttering," tons of anxiety, and even "misty burning"—he's chockfull of fear.
The cool thing, though, is that while Manny might be afraid, he still pushes forward as if he's not scared at all. So as much as we want to point out how nervous and fearful he can be, we also want to point out how he shows resilience and bravery as he refuses to let his nerves run the show. In the case of Dorothy's party, this means he not only shows up, but he even does his best to get along with her buds.
Sometimes it feels like compassion is a wee bit lacking in this book—after all, Mom and Dad get into some really intense fights, and Nardo and Magda can be super critical. And, of course, Manny has his mean moments, too. After all, there are times when he's super cruel to his siblings and, of course, there's that time he almost shoots his littlest sister (as if we could forget).
But all in all, Manny is also one of the nicest characters in the book. When Magda wants someone to babysit Pedi, Manny agrees, and when his mom needs help bringing Magda to the hospital, Manny is on it right away. A good chunk of the time, this guy has kindness in the bag—just check out how Manny treats Lencho after he's just lost a big boxing match:
Right then no one was around, except me, and Lencho kept searching for somebody to take off his gloves. […] A hunk of concrete weighed my chest and gopher teeth were gnawing at my heart, but I went over and began peeling the tape and undoing the laces—because Lencho wanted somebody to take off his gloves. (7.114)
It's pretty clear that Lencho is feeling down—not only has he lost the fight, but he's lost a fair share of his dignity, too. But instead of feeling annoyed or sad over the loss, which we would totally understand, Manny jumps right into being Mr. Compassionate. He doesn't let those "gopher teeth" in his heart stop him from being an awesome guy. Just as he does when he feels fear, again we see Manny pushing through his tough feelings.
So what happens when you take Manny's ability to push through his fear and combine it with his instinctive kindness? A kid who rejects gang activity in the heat of the moment, despite the fact that it will likely lose him friends, and because of this, the community he's been seeking throughout the book. In other words, after trying so hard to fit in, as the story ends we see that Manny just might have found all the company he needs: himself.