The strength of Gary Soto’s work is that these stories could be written about young people of any culture. Equally so, another strength of these stories is that they are written with names and characteristics of Hispanic youth and culture. All young people must have literary heroes if they are to believe that literature can speak to them. These stories are particularly important for Hispanic youth because there are so few pieces of literature for them and because the tales are so well written. Fresh imagery abounds in the text; comparisons are made that are easily accessible to and enjoyable for younger readers. Soto deftly weaves Spanish words, phrases, and expressions into the text (and provides a list of these with their translations in the back of the book) so that both language and culture come through in an authentic, realistic way.
The themes of first love, sports, dreams, coming-of-age, and family are central to these stories and to adolescence itself. Consequently, middle-school readers will find their thoughts and feelings validated on these pages. “Broken Chain,” “Seventh Grade,” and “Mother and Daughter” all address the complexities and confusion of first love. “Baseball in April,” “The Karate Kid,” and “The Marble Champ” address willed prowess in various athletic endeavors and how success nurtures self-esteem. The power of dreams is central to “Two Dreamers” and “The No-Guitar Blues,” while “Barbie,” “La Bamba,” and “Growing Up” reveal the difficulties of coming-of-age. Sometimes strained but important relationships among family members are featured in these stories as well, evidence of the realities of maturation.