What is life like when you are a seventh-grader who gets picked up from school every day in the family taco truck, lovingly named Tía Perla? Well, what was fun and exciting in elementary school – “corn chips and cold sodas for all my friends” – is now just humiliating.
Tía Perla, huffing and wheezing and looking a little bit grubby no matter how clean she actually is. Tía Perla, leaving anyone who comes near her smelling like jalapeños and cooking oil, a not-exactly-bad combination that clings to your hair and crawls under your fingernails.
Younger Stef used to be “playground royalty.” Older Stef just wants to leave school like everyone else. She wants to be able to walk to the library or be left home alone. And she really doesn’t want to be teased about being the “Taco Queen.”
All of this tension comes to a head when Stef wins tickets to the biggest concert of the year and her parents won’t let her go. Her despondent mood sours her relationship with her parents and her friends. Not even a dance to raise money for her school’s art program can lighten the load. Until, that is, the DJ blows out the school’s electrical system, and Tía Perla saves the dance!
Tía Perla isn’t really my aunt. But she is like family.
Middle schoolers pushing back against overprotective parents is a common theme in middle grade books. Jennifer Torres gives that theme a Mexican-American flair with the Soto family and its quest for the American dream. Together, they scrimped and saved to buy Tía Perla and fulfill Papi’s dream of feeding people the recipes he learned from Stef’s abuelita. All of that hard work is threatened when the city council considers new regulations on food trucks. The Soto family joins forces again to stand up for their fellow vendors. And the fight leads Stef to have a change of heart toward the much-maligned Tía Perla.
I don’t want Tía Perla to fly out of our lives after all. Instead, I imagine her soaring into a newer, brighter future, with all of us inside.