cover image Buried Onions

Buried Onions

Gary Soto. Harcourt Children's Books, $17 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-15-201333-2

This bleak, claustrophobic novel perfectly captures the cyclical despair of Eddie, a 19-year-old Hispanic teen in depressed Fresno, Calif. Every time he tries to improve his life--painting house numbers on curbs on the rich side of town, planting trees or doing odd jobs--his efforts are crushed. His employer's truck is stolen, his friend is stabbed to death and his aunt is encouraging him to seek revenge on the killer of his cousin. Soto, who often mixes humor with his vivid and tattered Fresno settings, leaves this bitter street tale unsweetened to the end. Though the ""buried onions"" analogy of the title is a tad overworked--Eddie imagines a giant onion buried underground, causing everyone's tears--the sorrow it yields reverberates. Soto gives the reader no place to hide from Eddie's life: ""I felt like crying. I sat on the steps for a few moments. My eyes were raw, my soul trampled by bad luck and bad luck's brother, hard times."" Although it's a realistic antidote to simplistic advice that tells kids to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, the novel offers little hope and may shake up young teens who haven't yet had to venture past the curbs of their own suburban neighborhoods. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)