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
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)
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
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)