Living up the Street Critical Essays

Gary Soto


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Living up the Street has appeal for young adult readers because it recounts with honesty the common trials of growing up: sibling rivalry, the first encounters with death, failure in sports and love, and working for a pittance. Although the emphasis on violence, verbal cruelty, competition, and general nastiness may seem to make the book more suitable for a stereotypical young boy, any reader can profit from the clear evocation of working-class life.

What is immediately apparent in the book is the importance of work and its terrible consequences. In the first two essays, Soto immediately links the violence of the neighborhood and his own family with the brutality and emptiness of his family’s jobs. In Soto’s youth, nearly everyone in his family—including his grandmother, who stands at a conveyer belt for twenty years, and his pet dog, who walks with the security guard—works at the Sun-Maid raisin factory. His father loses his life there because of an injury to his neck. For middle-class readers, Sun-Maid raisins are simply one more snack food, but for Soto, who looks beneath the glossy surface of commercial life, the company is a place of despair. When he describes his mother’s remarriage, Soto tells the reader little about his stepfather except that he drinks and packs books into cardboard boxes for fifteen years until the company leaves town. Even when the children of the neighborhood play, they are unable to leave the world of work: They wrestle and throw stones in an alley right “across from the broom factory and its brutal ‘whack’ of straw being tied into brooms.”

Soto never tries to explain away the causes of poverty and...

(The entire section is 686 words.)