In this never-a-dull-moment debut, pride and stubborn enterprise carry a brash young immigrant through both school and family troubles, as well as embarrassing errors in judgment.
“Cheese Whiz, I’m only eleven, and my life is a mess.” Such down moments are rare for Sandro, though, despite being severely overscheduled. He helps out his Zapotec father, an undocumented resident with multiple jobs and a bad back; he does his schoolwork and makes it to soccer practice; and he single-handedly runs a recycling operation on school grounds as (he mistakenly thinks) a private business to fund heart surgery his little sister, Girasol, needs. As mother and sister are in Mexico waiting for the procedure, he also has to do housework (not too well) while Papi’s on a night shift, and in school, he plots revenge on Abiola, a Pakistani classmate who has deviled him since an incident in third grade. Sounding only a little less manic than Joey Pigza, the exhausted young narrator struggles to keep these and other balls in the air as consequences and mishaps pile up. But both Abiola and a teacher pegged as mean turn out to be surprise allies, and his father’s “Be the better man, Sandro” proves a steady principle in adversity. Though Belford has her narrator utter both his favorite expletive (see above) and variations on “nothing is as it appears on the surface” with monotonous frequency and packs more issues into the tale than it can comfortably carry, readers will be happily swept along to the buoyant close.
Overstuffed, as many first novels are, but fitted with an admirable, funny protagonist. (Fiction. 10-12)