Debut novelist Torres delivers a light, touching novel about a seventh-grader, her first-generation family’s food truck, and her tribulations at school.
Estefania “Stef” Soto is the daughter of hardworking, rule-abiding Mexican-American parents; she is a skilled artist, but at school she’s best-known for Tía Perla, their family food truck. When not stationed at parks or convenience stores, Papi can be found driving it to and from school to chauffeur Stef, which humiliates her. Present-tense narrator Stef is an only child who speaks Spanish at home and finds herself translating for her dad from time to time; Mami works evenings as a cashier at the open-all-night grocery store. Just when the story starts to feel like a standard-issue preteen drama rife with petty rivalries, a substantial, meaningful, two-pronged plot develops: the depletion of art-class supplies leads to a student-led fundraiser, and new city-government rules threaten the family’s food-truck business. Woven through the story are both typical Spanish words (“órale,” “ándale,” “vámonos”) and more elaborate phrases, such as “Aprendiste algo?” and “Es una cantante.” (The Spanish is unitalicized and effortlessly explicated in context.) Torres is mindful of the casting, which includes Latino teachers, parents, and students (and a Latina pop star) and a Korean student (Arthur Choi, Stef’s close friend). Short chapters give readers an engaging glimpse of food-truck culture through the Soto family’s sacrifices, values, and hardships.
Once readers get past the drama, they’ll cheer for Stef Soto, her family, and Tía Perla. (Fiction. 8-12)