100-Character Breakdown: A novel with an engaging narrative and diverse characters that elevate it beyond its familiar setup.
Genre: Young adult, diverse lit
Publisher: CreateSpace (March 2016)
When a bird poops on eighth-grader Paco Jones in his first week at private school Walden Academy, Paco knows this is just the beginning of his problems. The eighth grader is biracial, impoverished compared to the other kids, and soon finds himself being called “Taco Jones” and “Dia De Los Muertos.” He wants to blend in, but that’s not easy for a half-Mexican kid at a mostly white school. Then he meets Naomi Fox, one of the only black kids in the school, and his crush on her makes everything else fade into the background. Naomi’s boyfriend Trent needs help crafting her Valentine’s Day present, so he recruits Paco to be his Cyrano de Bergerac. Paco finds himself helping someone else woo the girl he wishes he could date.
Dominic Carrillo’s The Improbable Rise of Paco Jones is a fun young adult novel with believable characters and a well-drawn romance, all of which is highlighted by Paco’s engaging narrative voice. While the general plot at times feels unoriginal and predictable — from the Cyrano trope to the idea of an outcast transfer student — the characters are truly relatable, which is more than enough to keep the reader’s attention. And despite the novel’s familiar start, it progresses into a stronger text that deals with a variety of important issues, from racial discrimination to economic struggles to identity. The exploration of the diverse cast of characters is successful and refreshing; Carrillo takes the time to build each member of the main cast into a three-dimensional character. This engaging novel may not have the most original set up, but by the end, it is a nuanced, empathetic, and well-developed book.