(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

A Summer Life, by Chicano author Gary Soto, is a collection of thirty-nine short vignettes based on Soto’s life and chronicling coming-of-age in California. The book is arranged in three sections covering Soto’s early childhood, preadolescence, and the time prior to adulthood. Soto is the writer of the everyday. In the first section, his world is bounded by his neighborhood and his eyes see this world in the sharp, concrete images of childhood. In “The Hand Brake,” for example, he writes, “One afternoon in July, I invented a brake for a child’s running legs. It was an old bicycle hand brake. I found it in the alley that ran alongside our house, among the rain-swollen magazines, pencils, a gutted clock and sun-baked rubber bands that cracked when I bunched them around my fingers.”

Soto’s Latino heritage forms the background. Soto identifies himself with this community in the descriptions he chooses for the everyday realities: his grandfather’s wallet is “machine tooled with MEXICO’ and a campesino and donkey climbing a hill”; his mother pounds “a round steak into carne asada” and crushes “a heap of beans into refritos.”

Soto’s experiences include the sounds of Spanish and the objects of the barrio, but they seem universal. At heart, the book is a child’s movement toward self-awareness. Through A Summer Life, Soto paints his growing self-consciousness and increasing...

(The entire section is 428 words.)