Author: Gary Soto
Genre: YA fiction
Pages: 160 (I listened to it on audio)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Challenges: Awesome Authors, PoC
FTC Disclosure: I borred the CDs from my school library
Summary (from Amazon): Eddie can always smell onions in the air--the sharp bitter odor of hopelessness and anger that haunts the poor side of Fresno. Eddie tries to escape from the poverty and gang society that surrounds him by taking vocational classes and staying away from his cholos (gang friends). But when his cousin is killed, his aunt urges him to seek out and punish the murderer. To avoid pressure building in his neighborhood, Eddie takes a landscaping job in an affluent suburb. But this too goes awry when his boss' truck is stolen while in Eddie's care. In the end, with his money gone and a dangerous gang member stalking him, Eddie feels like his only choice is to join the military.
Review: I recommend Gary Soto's books and this one in particular to students often, and I hadn't even read it before this week. Now when I recommend it I will have passion behind me. This book is very good. And the fact that the reader had a great voice definitely helped.
I liked the character of Eddie; he is like so many teens (he is 19) in that he wants to do well and escape his lot in life, but bad things keep happening to him, some which are his own fault, and others which are not. It seems that Eddie can try to avoid gang life, but most of the young men he knows are affiliated even if he isn't. He's got his hand in a bunch of different places to earn money, but none are really panning out and helping him stabilize.
The supporting characters are also well fleshed out: his friend Jose; his Nina; the girls he went to high school with; and most importantly, Angel, his homey. I also liked that Eddie had people on whom he could rely, in particular his friend Jose and "Coach" who ran the after school programs at the local rec center. Coach is there for Eddie when he needs to talk out his options, Coach supports Eddie and stands up for him when it's necessary. Everyone needs someone like that in their lives.
The story is believable, real, moves quickly, will grab reluctant readers, and is a story that will stay with the reader long after the book is finished.
Through the language used (English with a smattering of Spanish) I got a real sense of what poor Fresno must have been like for Latino youth in the 1990s: tough; scary; difficult; and always edgy. Soto's descriptions of the Fresno streets painted a vivid picture of a people struggling to make ends meet.Click to see my updated Google Map.