Expected publication: January 3rd 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Out of curiosity, I picked it up too. I’m now glad I did, because author Jennifer Torres has cooked up a short, lovely story about family, friendship and food into a brief but impactful 176 pages.
Torres introduces us to Estefania "Stef" Soto, who has a love/hate relationship with Tia Perla, her family’s taco truck. While she appreciates the fact that her father loves cooking and what he does, she also wishes that her life didn’t so fully revolve around the taco truck. However, when a threat to the taco truck, Stef becomes Tia Perla’s staunchest defender…
While stories about heroines wanting to escape their family’s interests (and subsequently learning to fight for said interests) aren’t exactly new, Torres’s story stands out, because it grounds itself firmly in contemporary roots.
We see how much of Stef and her family’s existence is predicated around Tia Perla being successful on a day-to-day basis – a single bad decision to park in an area without a lot of prospective customers, can result in takings that end up stressing out Stef’s parents for days. It’s a candid look at just how so many people live around us, and readers will immediately feel a kinship with Stef and her family.
But even with the challenges of Stef and her family’s life, they’re also not afraid to live life. Stef is a gifted artist with strong friendships, and we see how she uses both her talent and friendships to survive the various dramas that come with being a pre-teen student. Torres does a fine job of using the drama to emphasize of just how complicated life can be for a pre-teen, and how things like family finances and the desire to go to the concert for a famous rock star, can feel equally important to young Stef. It’s a candid reminder that pre-teens contain multitudes, and younger readers will appreciate Torres’s thoughtful dissection of that fact.
However, the action does pick up substantially with two-subplots: one involving a fundraiser for art supplies at Stef’s school, and the potential passage of a new city food truck ordinance. While the latter one works substantially stronger due to real-world applications – more on this in a bit – the fundraiser is a nice juxtaposition of what it means to be young, frugal and how Stef’s school and family life can collide in a way that is meaningful for all involved.
Outside of Stef’s core story, it’s worth noting that Torres’s analysis of ongoing changes to food truck laws are handled factually, and with a thoughtful eye toward the impact on those who depend on food trucks for their livelihood.
Part of my day job involves analyzing local legislation, and the very scenario described by Torres has come up for debate in many cities in California. Hopefully, her empathetic look at how something as simple as limited curbside parking can impact a person’s ability to conduct business and live their life, will help readers young and old have more empathy to other situations like this.
With wonderful wriiting, delectable depictions of food and a worthwhile story, this book is a great way to kick off the yaer. Highly recommend, full stop.
About the author:
Jennifer Torres works as a freelance journalist and leads an early literacy campaign on behalf of the University of the Pacific. She is the author of Finding the Music/En pos de la musica and lives with her husband and two little girls in central California. Stef Soto, Taco Queen is her debut novel.