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Review: I am a Taxi (Ellis)

Title: I am a Taxi
Author: Deborah Ellis
Genre: YA fiction
Pages: 204 (and it's a small book)
Rating: 4 out of 5
Challenges: Global Reading, POC, YA
FTC Disclosure: I bought this book and will donate it to my school library
Summary (from the back of the book): Home for Diego is a cramped cell tha the shares with his mother and littel sister in San Sebastian Women's Prison in Cochabamba, Bolivia. To help support his family he works as a "taxi"--running errands for the other prisoners--as well as doing homework for stupid rich kids at his school. It's a tough life, but Diego is a survivor, and he tries hard to stay away from trouble.

Then a stroke of bad luck suddenly sets his family back in a major way, and Diego is tempted by a new job that he believes will provide a way out of his difficulties. But it is a far different job than he imagined--one that takes him deep into the heart of the Bolivian jungle.

Review: This book has been nominated for numerous awards and I can see why. But, I've got to be honest about why I read this book. As one of my reading challenges in 2010 I took on the Global Reading Challenge and was doing really well and I have read a lot of books this year set outside the US. However, I have had a block about South American books. The problem is that I have a really hard time with magical realism and so many South American books and authors are in this style. I searched the blogosphere for books that sounded like I could handle them and just didn't have any luck. Then Bonnie at Bonnie's Books showed me her Book Around the World blog and I got moving. One of two of the South American books sounded like they would work for me. That got me searching Amazon and I found this book. I am really glad that I did.

The writing is straight forward and actually quite easy, which is great for junior high and high school students. In addition, having a young protagonist (the main character is almost 13) will suit those students as well; I'd just have to get the high school students to give it a go. Diego is wise beyond his years, smart (both in the school sense and in life), and he has taken on the role of provider and care taker for his family since he is allowed out of the prison to go to school, sell the clothes his mother knits, and to buy extra food for his family. What a strange concept: both parents are in jail and the children live in the cell with the mom. However, the child is allowed to leave the prison each day to go to school and run around (I guess he did commit the crime).

The story flowed quickly and I was definitely eager to find out what was going to happen next. I really wanted things to work out for Diego since he was working so hard to do well by his family. The other characters in the book are fleshed out just enough so that the reader knows their personality and how they figure in Diego's life, but Diego is the main concern and the one we care about.

I don't want to say too much about the plot and give away the details, but it will be no surprise to hear that cocaine, coca leaves, and farming are a main part of this book. Deborah Ellis has written a number of non-fiction books so I am assuming that she did extensive research into this "industry" to make the story line as real as possible. What a crazy world that is! And it's certainly no place for small children. There is a sequel to this book, Sacred Leaf, and I may also read that one.


Bonnie Jacobs said...

I haven't read I Am a Taxi yet, but I was very impressed with Deborah Ellis's trilogy about Afghanistan: The Breadwinner, Parvana's Journey, and Mud City. I reviewed all three books in one post:


Helen's Book Blog said...

Bonnie--Thank you for the tip on Ellis' trilogy about Afghanistan. I've been over to your review and added the books to my TBR list