A poor, persecuted eighth-grade boy falls for a popular girl in a posh school.
Carrillo (Americano Abroad, 2012, etc.) evokes the wonder and confusion of first love in his debut YA novel. The hero is the eponymous Paco Jones, a biracial kid with a good heart but few friends. He’s recently transferred from his old junior high to a preppy private school, and because he’s the most impoverished kid in attendance, he soon finds himself the least popular. It doesn’t help that he sports “a big nose, an unflattering birthmark on my neck, pigeon-toed feet and hairy arms,” all of them fodder for teasing. He’s jeered at during lunch, called Drug Dealer and Paco Taco, and otherwise hounded by “the rumor mill; the gossipers; the two-faced cheaters who’d do anything to get ahead or get popular.” So what hope is there for him when he falls for Naomi Fox, a popular girl already involved with a popular guy? By charm and by chance, Paco becomes friends with both Naomi and her boyfriend, Trent Oden. But that only leads to more problems when Trent drafts Paco to be his Cyrano de Bergerac, choosing gifts for Naomi and writing Trent’s love letters. Carrillo remembers the tortures of eighth grade well and re-creates them with competence. Any reader who’s been young and in love should feel a vicarious thrill when Naomi friends Paco on Facebook or casually shares her number. Readers should also fret for Paco as he gets his hopes up (“If I said the wrong thing it could be over….What could be over?!”). Eight-grade readers should nod in recognition, though a few may find the story arc predictable, at least until a clever twist appears toward the end. Students with different backgrounds from their classmates may especially identify with Paco, an outsider in a strange place, shy but wise, his own heart a secret. But all readers should find plenty here to make them smile.
A fun, amusing tale about the beautiful torment of young hearts and hormones at play.