Stef Soto, Taco Queen
By Jennifer Torres
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Age Range: 8+

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“Stef’s fresh, honest voice will resonate with a broad swath of readers, as will the relatable struggles she negotiates…”
—Publishers Weekly

Description
A heartwarming and charming debut novel about family, friends, and finding your voice all wrapped up in a warm tortilla.

Estefania “Stef” Soto is itching to shake off the onion-and-cilantro embrace of Tia Perla, her family’s taco truck. She wants nothing more than for Papi to get a normal job and for Tia Perla to be a distant memory. Then maybe everyone at school will stop seeing her as the Taco Queen.

But when her family’s livelihood is threatened, and it looks like her wish will finally come true, Stef surprises everyone (including herself) by becoming the truck’s unlikely champion. In this fun and heartfelt novel, Stef will discover what matters most and ultimately embrace an identity that even includes old Tia Perla.

Reviews & Accolades
The bones of this polished debut are familiar—overprotective parents, seventh-grade social struggles—but Torres fleshes them out with authenticity, humor, and heart. The only child of immigrant parents, Stef is embarrassed by her father’s rundown taco truck, Tía Perla, which he considers part of the family; after helping Papi serve customers, Stef watches as he locks the vehicle’s kitchen door “and gives it a quick tap—the way you might congratulate an old friend with a pat on the back.” Tía Perla plays a key role in the development of both the plot and Stef’s character: her growing self-confidence helps her deflect ongoing mean-spirited comments about the truck from her onetime friend Julia, she summons the courage to speak up at a meeting debating regulations that could put her father and other mobile food vendors out of business, and she uses Tía Perla to save the class dance during a power outage. Stef’s fresh, honest voice will resonate with a broad swath of readers, as will the relatable struggles she negotiates.
Publishers Weekly

“Stef is in seventh grade; she loves art class, has lots of friends, and enjoys a happy home life with her Mami and Papi. The trouble is, her parents are over-protective—at least in Stef’s opinion. Her Papi makes his living driving a taco food truck and she has to help him sell food on Saturdays. She thinks it would be better for everyone if he had a more “normal” job and she did not have to help her father sell food on Saturdays? A family crisis comes when Stef wins some tickets to a concert, but her parents do not want to let her go. A school crisis erupts when the art department exhausts its stock and does not have enough money to buy new supplies. And her family, and their community, face a difficult decision when new regulations might put all food trucks out of business. Told in first person and in present tense, this is a well-written book with an integrated plot; everything fits together seamlessly. There are no stereotypical plot resolutions or filler material here. Best of all, readers will care about the character. Neither all good nor all bad, they act and talk like modern teenagers. The minor characters are not minor at all, in that they are just as interesting and important to the plot as Stef. The adults are portrayed realistically and compassionately. There is an excellent use of Spanish phrases throughout, but non-Spanish readers will have no trouble discerning their meanings. Might this be the beginning of a new series? The answer must be, órale!”
Children’s Literature

“Estefania “Stef” Soto just wants to be a typical seventh grader. She wants to have friends. She wants to fit in, and she wants a bit of independence from her overprotective immigrant parents. Stef knows enough not to expect to be able to take a city bus to school, the way her former friend Julia does, but even a school bus is deemed too risky by her parents. Her papi insists on picking her up every day in Tia Perla, his beat-up taco truck. Each day, he asks, “¿Aprendiste algo?” (Did she learn something?) Then they find a spot for her father to drum up business while Stef does her homework. Deep down, she’s proud of her parents and knows they are working hard to provide for her, but she’s also resentful of the ease with which some of her classmates, especially Julia, get things—like tickets to see Vivian Vega in concert. Even if she could earn the money for tickets, she knows her parents would never let her go. This earnest debut features a relatable narrator, stalwart friends, and caring parents who are working hard and struggling. The subplot involving a pop idol threatens to veer into after-school special territory but avoids doing so. The core of the story—friendship and the importance of family—wins out, leaving tweens with a satisfying, gentle read.  A worthy addition to library shelves; hand this to younger middle grade readers looking for family-centered realistic fiction.”
School Library Journal

“Debut novelist Torres delivers a light, touching novel about a seventh-grader, her first-generation family’s food truck, and her tribulations at school. Estefania “Stef” Soto is the daughter of hardworking, rule-abiding Mexican-American parents; she is a skilled artist, but at school she’s best-known for Tía Perla, their family food truck. When not stationed at parks or convenience stores, Papi can be found driving it to and from school to chauffeur Stef, which humiliates her. Present-tense narrator Stef is an only child who speaks Spanish at home and finds herself translating for her dad from time to time; Mami works evenings as a cashier at the open-all-night grocery store. Just when the story starts to feel like a standard-issue preteen drama rife with petty rivalries, a substantial, meaningful, two-pronged plot develops: the depletion of art-class supplies leads to a student-led fundraiser, and new city-government rules threaten the family’s food-truck business. Woven through the story are both typical Spanish words (“órale,” “ándale,” “vámonos”) and more elaborate phrases, such as “Aprendiste algo?” and “Es una cantante.” (The Spanish is unitalicized and effortlessly explicated in context.) Torres is mindful of the casting, which includes Latino teachers, parents, and students (and a Latina pop star) and a Korean student (Arthur Choi, Stef’s close friend). Short chapters give readers an engaging glimpse of food-truck culture through the Soto family’s sacrifices, values, and hardships. Once readers get past the drama, they’ll cheer for Stef Soto, her family, and Tía Perla.
Kirkus Reviews

Groups Represented
Mexican American

Themes
#OwnVoices
Bi-racial Identity
Bilingual
Community
Cross-Group Friendship
Cultural Differences
Cultural Identity
Cultural Traditions
Family Relationships
First Generation
Immigration
Multicultural Friendship

Setting
United States

Engagement Projects & Resources
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