Here’s one of the books I put on my Top 10 Books I Am Looking Forward to for the First Half of 2017 post (wow, that’s a long title!), based on hearing an interview with the author on PW KidsCast.
Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres. Hachette, 2017.
Middle school, with its shifting friendships, is already hard ground. Stef – Estefania to her parents – finds it especially humiliating that her father insists on picking her up from school in the family’s taco truck, Tia Perla. It only provides fuel for her former best friend, Julia Sandoval, who’s now openly hostile. Fun and real life collide as Stef tries to convince her father to let her go to a big concert with her current best friend Amanda, while her father’s business is put in danger by proposed food truck regulations. There’s a sideline of humor and chef respect as her father keeps trying to come up with new tasty dishes for Stef’s other best friend, Arthur Choi, who’s vegan and allergic to nearly everything.
I loved so much about this book. Stef herself, despite her conflicts with her parents and other flaws, is still devoted to them and unafraid to help out with the taco truck. This is a close look at a new American family, trying their best to live the dream and do right by their daughter even as they as parents just don’t get parts of the culture. There are Spanish words sprinkled through the text – especially “Órale”, which Stef says is a “word that comes in lots of flavors,” (mostly affirmative), and which is use throughout with various shades of meaning. The parents’ dialogue is written in unaccented English, which I appreciated, though it’s clear in context that they’re speaking Spanish at home. I appreciated the depth given to the “mean girl”, who isn’t randomly picking on Stef out of pure native meanness or for racial reasons. This is a quick and cheerful read, perfect for those looking for realistic fiction about kids navigating middle school and realizing that they have the power to make a difference in the world.