Facts of Life: Stories

( 18 )


What do Gaby Lopez, Michael Robles, and Cynthia Rodriguez have in common? These three kids join other teens and tweens in Gary Soto's new short story collection, in which the hard-knock facts of growing up are captured with humor and poignance. 

Filled with annoying siblings, difficult parents, and first loves, these stories are a masterful reminder of why adolescence is one of the most frustrating and fascinating times of life.

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What do Gaby Lopez, Michael Robles, and Cynthia Rodriguez have in common? These three kids join other teens and tweens in Gary Soto's new short story collection, in which the hard-knock facts of growing up are captured with humor and poignance. 

Filled with annoying siblings, difficult parents, and first loves, these stories are a masterful reminder of why adolescence is one of the most frustrating and fascinating times of life.

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Editorial Reviews

AGERANGE: Ages 11 to 15.

A set of amiable stories involving Hispanic youth, Soto's book is a nice answer for young teens looking for stories about people like themselves. Each tale is a beautiful little snapshot of a small moment in the characters' lives-some tragic and others hopeful. In Where Did I Go Wrong? Mickey Cortez unwittingly aids a possible theft, while Rebecca Martinez must contend with a classmate who is trying to get Rebecca's parking enforcement mother to forgive a citation for her father in The Ideal City. Lisa Torres faces a beautiful scene with egrets outside her less-than-ideal living conditions in Capturing the Moment, perhaps the best story in the collection, while Ana Hernandez faces off with another in the amusing Identity Theft. Soto's characters walk with grace and quiet dignity. These stories are uplifting, even those about people trapped in their surroundings. They border on the young side, but that is fine because each tale carries a whisper of encouragement to young readers on the precipices of great change: You, too, can triumph. No surprise, then, that Soto serves as Young People's Ambassador for the California Legal Assistance (per his Web site). There is not a weak story in the bunch, but Capturing the Moment contains a small scene so simple and elegant that the effect is heartbreaking: Lisa's shy mother shows her daughter she has come home with her first library card. With scenes like this one, Soto's book graduates from quiet dignity into tour de force. Reviewer: Matthew Weaver
April 2008 (Vol. 31, No. 1)

F. Todd Goodson
Gary Soto's collection of short fiction offers a variety of adolescent characters lives at the intersection of Spanish and English languages and Mexican and American cultures. The portraits of the lives of these young people are gentile explorations of the profound implications of their ordinary lives. We see a talented young artist, for example, and through her eyes we discover the contrast between the natural beauty surrounding her life and the relative poverty of her family's small trailer on a rancho. We follow the adventures of a young man who, frustrated after striking out to end a softball game, unwittingly assists a suspicious character (likely a burglar). Through his adventures we see the richness of his life, family, and community. Facts of Life is a nice collection of stories that should help adolescent readers appreciate and respect how we are all citizens of the world. Reviewer: F. Todd Goodson
School Library Journal

Gr 5-8- Ten short stories deal with the trials and tribulations of growing up. In "Seeing the Future," 13-year-old Letty Rodriquez has landed the cool guy, but wonders if keeping him is worth the sacrifices she will have to make. Lisa Torres is a dreamer. The scenes she sketches in "Capturing the Moment" testify to her unique vision and artistic talent, qualities those around her don't share or understand. In "Where Did I Go Wrong?" baseball leaguer Mickey Cortez has just struck out, ending a game, and he is feeling down. On his way home, he meets Raul, who offers him 30 dollars for a couple of hours of work, and all of a sudden his life is looking up. When the work turns out to be illegal, Mickey begins to wonder if Raul is that cool guy he envisioned and must decide what to do. Each story offers an insightful look at a moment in a young person's life. Soto writes with humor, wit, and a voice that will appeal to tweens and teens alike. This work is a terrific addition to the growing collection of literature that features Hispanic protagonists.-Sheilah Kosco, Bastrop Public Library, TX

Kirkus Reviews
A young man who unwittingly helps a punk steal an elderly couple's television in the first story sets the somewhat uneasy tone for this collection. While glimpses of Soto's characteristic humor and charm appear in later stories, many of these tales focus on less-than-comfortable events and experiences. There's a girl whose tattooed and pierced babysitter dyes her younger brother's hair orange and green, a fact sure to enrage their mom when she eventually finds out; a child who is achingly aware of the enmity of anti-war protesters and simultaneously proud of her immigrant parents' efforts to improve their lives; and a sad young boy whose painfully polite parents have frozen him out of the family without apparently meaning to do so. Each situation is distinct, clearly drawn and immediate. Soto presents his characters with sometimes insurmountable challenges, but he limns their lives with such vivid descriptions and insights that readers will be left wondering how things work out-and wishing for the best. (Fiction. 11-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547577340
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 1/17/2012
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 692,173
  • Age range: 12 years
  • Lexile: 790L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 4.90 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Gary Soto 's first book for young readers, Baseball in April and Other Stories, won the California Library Association's Beatty Award and was named an ALA Best Book for Young Adults. He has since published many novels, short stories, plays, and poetry collections for adults and young people. He lives in Berkeley, California. Visit his website at www.garysoto.com .

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Read an Excerpt

Where Did I Go Wrong?


TO ERASE THE MEMORY of an embarrassing strikeout in a slow-pitch game, Mickey Cortez entered Lupe’s Super, Super Mercado and splurged on a soda and a bag of chili-flavored CornNuts. His baseball cap, which he customarily wore with the bill turned back, faced forward. He needed all the disguise he could find. His spirits had fallen to the level of his dragging shoelaces.

His mind played back the pain of his failure. He grimaced as he recalled hurling down his bat. Then he had irrationally blamed the swirl of dust that kicked up just as he swung through the third pitch and ended the game, 5–4.

"Stupid dust!" he had yelled. He scrubbed his eyes to make his point. But his teammates, who had been clinging hopefully to the chain-link fence, just groaned and began to gather their equipment.

Now, to make himself feel better, Mickey bought food and drink. The owner of the store was a friend of his father’s, so the boy was allowed to ignore the scrawled sign above the magazine rack that read: BUY THE MAGAZINE—DON’T JUST READ IT.

He was eyeballing the latest issue of Lowrider magazine when a man whispered, "Oye, kid, you need work?" Mickey jumped, startled not by the man breathing down on him—and the fact that he was tattooed to his throat—but by the word he despised most of all. Work. As in pick up a shovel? he thought. As in weed the flower bed? As in get an old towel from the garage and wash the car?

"What?" Mickey asked weakly. "Did you say . . . work?"

The man’s eyes were small in his large face, but that was the only thing small about him: He was barrel-chested, with muscle-packed shoulders and huge arms and legs. He stood just a few inches taller than Mickey, but much mightier.

"Yeah, kid, I’m looking for someone to help me move things. I’m paying good—thirty dollars—if you can spare a couple hours."

The man had to retrieve items from his grandfather’s house. Old Gramps, the man quipped, had eaten too much menudo in his time and had suffered a heart attack. He touched his heart, and then the gold dollar sign that dangled from a large gold chain around his neck.

Mickey, seeing that this hombre was connected to a larger economy than the two quarters in his own pocket, became interested. At home he slaved for nothing—or next to nothing, just a dollar or two. Now this man was offering Mickey thirty bucks.

"How long will it take?"

"Not long," the man answered. "You’re a strong-looking dude."

Mickey inflated his chest and held the air as long as he could before slowly releasing it. "Okay," he agreed.

He finished his soda and crushed the can in his fist, which made the man whistle and say, "You’re strong, I’m telling you." Mickey smiled proudly and again inflated his chest.

Soon Mickey was in an old squeaky truck moving down Fruit Street. He noticed the radio was gone. "Your truck get jacked?"


Mickey pointed at the cavern full of loose wires.

"Yeah," the man muttered, head shaking in disgust. "These be bad times. People just taking what they want." He scratched a tattoo that read born to lose on his bicep. "But you know what the worst theft is?"

Mickey shook his head.

"It’s when someone steals your soul."

Profound, Mickey thought. The dude sounds like my dad when he’s kicking it in his recliner and complaining about the government.

The man introduced himself as Raul.

"I got a friend at school named Raul," Mickey said. "Him and me want to start a rock group."

"Is that right?" Raul asked. "What instrument you play?"

"Nothing right now, but we’re going to learn."

"I’m sure you’re gonna make it. And if not in music, then in sports. Bet you play ball, huh?"

Mickey beamed. "Yeah, actually, I play slow-pitch." His recent outing, he figured, had been a fluke. The stupid dust messed him up—dust and everyone looking at him from the dugout.

Mickey spied a car approaching from the opposite direction. It was his father’s car. A zipper of fear ran up his back. What would his father think of his son in a truck driven by a total stranger? He was only thirteen. Or would his father be proud that he had found work?

"Is this place far?" Mickey felt nervous. "My mom likes me to be home by five." He caught sight of a tattoo in Lowrider script, carlos, on the guy’s wrist. Which is it? Mickey wondered. Raul or Carlos?

"Nah, it’s just right around here," Raul answered.

The truck turned a corner. They were in a nice part of their small city, with flowers standing up in well-fertilized soil and sharing their pretty faces with passersby. Automatic sprinklers were spinning out water on supergreen lawns.

"It’s one of these," Raul said. He peered out the windshield splotched with the horrible deaths of insects.

Mickey was certain his widowed aunt lived on this street. Her husband had died while ordering a hamburger. This was just about all he remembered about his uncle, a baker who went to bed before the good television programs started and got up while it was still night.

Raul searched for a house, braked, backed the truck up a few feet, and crept into the driveway, cutting the engine and letting the truck roll until it stopped. The house was near the corner, and its lawn sparkled from a recent soaking. A flag with smiling bunnies and turtles on it hung by the door.

"Your grandfather lives here?" To Mickey, the house didn’t seem very Mexican, and Raul, dark as a penny, was puro homie.

"That’s right. You wait here ’cause I got to go around the back and get the key." Raul jumped out of the truck and disappeared through a gate at the side of the house.

Mickey wrote his name on the dusty dashboard, then leaped from the truck. Before he slammed the door, he noticed six or seven cell phones under the passenger’s seat, maybe more. Was Raul a thief?

"Dang," he whispered. Was he, a tender seventh grader, being pulled into a crime that would send him to juvie until he was seventeen? By then, his voice would have deepened like a frog’s.

Mickey didn’t dwell on this question because Raul had appeared on the porch. "Come on, champ," he called with a wave. Somehow, Mickey couldn’t disappoint this guy—he was sort of cool with all his tattoos.

Once inside the house, he was greeted by cool air, a tidy living room, and bright artificial flowers in a vase. Raul closed the door behind them and pointed to a huge television. Mickey whistled. It could have been an altar in a church because a cross and a picture of Jesus sat on top.

"We’re going to move this?" Mickey sidled up to the television and perceived that it was taller than he.

"Yeah, that’s why I need you, champ." Mickey sensed Raul was trying to stroke him with a compliment. Still, he wasn’t about to confront him and ask, "Hey, dude, you a thief? How come you got a tattoo that says Carlos?"

It was just too late.

Raul unplugged the television, tossed the cross and picture of Jesus onto the couch, and started to wrestle the TV from the wall. Together they moved one end, then the other, and walked the monstrous television across the living room to the front door. During this straining effort Mickey laid his eyes on framed photographs on the wall. One was of an elderly white couple, and below them were photographs of pinkish children. A flood of sweat sprang to his face. The zippers of fear went crazy on his back.

Face moist with sweat, Raul pulled at the front of his tank top and fanned himself. "Go get me a soda."


"In the kitchen. Grab me and you a cold one." Raul pulled out a white handkerchief and ran it across his face and neck.

It’s stolen, Mickey reckoned. The handkerchief belongs to the old man in the picture. Raul was not the kind of guy who carried an ironed handkerchief white as snow. He must have cased the place—were the old folks on vacation?—and broken in, discovered a huge television on which to watch the Raiders in the fall, and recruited a naive soul in the shape of a thirteen-year-old strikeout king.

Be cool, Mickey reminded himself. He did what Raul asked and fetched two sodas. "Your grandfather is he, like, going to get better?" A split second later, he wished he could pull in that sentence like a fishing line. Why did he ask it?

Raul leveled a mean, snakelike stare at Mickey. The moment was so quiet that he could hear a leaky faucet drip in the kitchen.

Raul softened and answered, "Yeah, mi abuelito is gonna get better. The guy is strong, you know. He served in Nam and came back to pick grapes for fifteen years. Can you believe that?" He burped and added that his grandfather was a swell fellow who would give the shirt off his back.

"Times was hard then, huh?" Mickey thought of his own Mexican-born grandfather, who, according to family lore, walked five miles through a sandy desert to get to school. His grandfather, often lit with drink, reminded them every Christmas that he’d only gone up to eighth grade. He wanted his grandchildren to study hard and get jobs in office buildings where the air conditioning was free.

"You got that right, homie." Raul downed his soda, tossed the empty can on the couch, and ordered, "Back to work. Got that twenty dollars waiting for you."

Miffed that Raul had lowered his pay, Mickey nearly braved correcting him. He would need the full thirty dollars to buy the aluminum bat he had eyed at Big 5.

But even more, he wanted out! He debated whether to sprint out the front door, screaming his fool head off, "Thief! Thief! Help me! Somebody help me!" He pictured himself running in slow motion, the way he did in dreams in which he was hauling as fast as he could to first base. He feared that Raul would chase him down. What would his headstone read? thirteen-year-old struck out in the first inning of life!

By the time they got the television down the steps and into the back of the truck, both were sweating. "Is that all?" Mickey asked. "You know, I could walk home from here." He pasted a smile on his mug. He spanked his palms together to portray a kid done with work.

"No, I need you to come and unload it. Wait here." From the porch Raul turned and pointed a warning finger. "Don’t go anywhere! That ten dollars is going to be yours."

He’s lowering my pay again! Mickey’s jaw dropped in disbelief. Raul was a cheap thief.

The smart part of Mickey’s brain advised, Run, sucka! Get your nalgas outta there! He took off, his arms chugging away, but he could swear he was running in slow motion. He looked back: Raul was nowhere in sight.

Copyright © 2008 by Gary Soto

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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Table of Contents



Where Did I Go Wrong? • 1
Capturing the Moment • 23
Identity Theft • 41
You Decide • 52
The Babysitter • 64
Citizen of the World • 85
Wise Uncle Joe • 103
Seeing the Future • 124
The Ideal City • 134
D in English • 157
Selected Spanish Words and Phrases • 175

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 18 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2013


    Sits. Sp

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2013


    May i join

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2013

    Petalfall to Furypaw

    "Okay. Go to result fourteen. I'll meet you there."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2013


    Gtg tell me if t works

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2013


    Leans against him padding to the new csmp ~Swirltail

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2013

    Dawn and Rowan

    Rowan: He pawed at his ear. "Nuthin' much. You guys wanna explore?" Dawn: She jumped up. "Yeah!"

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2013


    She walks in tentitivly

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2013

    Specklekit to icekit

    Jumps in the bush with him

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2013


    But that rper never rps her!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2013

    Frostdrop (StarClan)

    She comes down and helps the she cat. She massages her belly th magic paws. "They should ome now. Good luck." She said

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2013


    Stormstrike violently shook his daughter to wake her up. "Swirltail!" He cried.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2013


    "Mosskit i will theach yo everythig i learn if you want." Copper sid.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2013

    Dingopelt (sorreh iceh)

    "Lets go to new camp" he picks up one kut and puts the other two on his bacj and lets swirltail keans on him then he gose to teh new camp~digopt

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2013


    *licks her cherk hen looks at Seirltail curiously-

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2013


    Yes u can.

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  • Posted October 28, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Sally Kruger aka "Readingjunky" for TeensReadToo.com

    FACTS OF LIFE is a collection of short stories presenting a variety of adolescent views on growing up. Moving from childhood to adulthood is a completely unique experience, special to each individual. Gary Soto takes readers into the minds of ten teens and pre-teens and a defining moment in each of their lives. <BR/><BR/>There is Lisa Torres, who suddenly realizes what her world of poverty really looks like to others. She learns that her personal fascination and appreciation of nature and the works of John Audubon may not be shared by those around her. <BR/><BR/>Ana Hernandez finds her world turned upside down when another Ana Hernandez appears at her school. The new Ana is admired and worshipped, while the old Ana is lost in the crowd. She learns about the importance of popularity the hard way, by losing it. <BR/><BR/>In other stories from the collection, readers will meet Hector, who must suddenly decide which of his divorcing parents' homes he will call his own. Rachael experiences the "wild side" when a new babysitter shows even less maturity and responsibility than Rachael's little seven-year-old brother. In "Citizen of the World," Laurita is exposed to the controversy of the illegal immigrant situation, and in "D in English" Ryan realizes it is time to take the world around him more seriously and become a young man instead of a little child. <BR/><BR/>Together, these stories merge to form a touching and honest look at what it means to take the giant step toward being an adult. The confusion, the disappointment, and the challenge of taking this step are evident as Gary Soto masterfully creates his characters and their true-to-life experiences.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2008

    i love this book

    this book is cool i like where did i go wrong because mickey was so nevers i would like to buy this book i am from ms61

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