cover image Petty Crimes

Petty Crimes

Gary Soto. Harcourt Children's Books, $17 (168pp) ISBN 978-0-15-201658-6

In this sharply honed collection of stories, Mexican American children on the brink of adolescence are testing the waters, trying to find their place in a world ruled by gangs and ""marked with graffiti, boom boxes, lean dogs behind fences...."" Some characters (La G era, a shoplifter, and Mario, a scam artist) are already on their way to becoming juvenile delinquents. Others have chosen a straighter path. Most, however, are caught somewhere in the middle, swimming against a current of violence. Norma finds it much harder than she imagined to protect a doll put under her care for a social studies experiment. Rudy learns the meaning of defeat during a boxing match against a boy much smaller than himself. With a rare mix of compassion and irony, Soto (Buried Onions) crystallizes moments signifying the loss of innocence. His pithy last liners (""The vatos locos walked slowly away, their heads directed toward the future, and their bodies already half dressed for their funerals"") will stop readers in their tracks, leaving them to digest the meaning of his words and ponder the fates of his protagonists. Ages 8-12. (May)