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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Taco: A Brooklyn Tale is a young adult coming of age novel written by John E. DeJesus. Taco and his family moved to Brooklyn, New York, just before he began first grade. His real name was Juan Ortega, but Percy, a class clown, promptly named him Taco, and the name stuck. They lived in a brownstone on Wyckoff Street, with lots of other Puerto Rican families. The elders had titles; they were called Don or Dona, Tio or Tia, and while Taco thought of them as being royalty, Mami explained that the titles were used out of respect. The Dons and Donas seemed to be founts of wisdom and were always dressed as if for a special occasion. Taco’s abuela was known as Dona Maria. She insisted that Taco, his brother, Jose, and sister, Inez, call her Dona instead of abuela. She was slim and vivacious, and she loved to dance. Being called a grandmother made her uncomfortable, and indeed she didn’t seem to act like an abuela. One day, she had Taco take pictures as she climbed a tree and perched out on a tree limb.
John E. DeJesus’s young adult coming of age novel, Taco: A Brooklyn Tale, is one of those very rare novels that I just didn’t want to end. I loved hearing Taco’s stories about his life, his mom and siblings, and the world that was Wyckoff Street while he was growing up. I was especially moved by the passages about Don Paco and his son, Papo, who was Taco’s unofficial guardian, mentor and friend. The war-time setting of this novel lends a particularly poignant tone as we see the suffering of Papo who returned from the war with one leg missing and tormented by nightmares that would make him cry out in horror in his sleep. DeJesus beautifully paints the image of that city block as a cohesive and self-supporting village, such as was found back in that tropical homeland which still lived in the heart of each and every resident. Watching as the family and Papo ride the Puerto Rican Parade Float is one of the most moving passages I’ve read in some time. DeJesus includes a glossary of terms used in the book as well as an Author Q&A which is marvelous reading. In it, he discusses reader interest in a follow-up to Taco: A Brooklyn Tale, and I’m hoping he does decide to write one. This is one unforgettable coming of age tale and a sequel would be a treat indeed. Taco: A Brooklyn Tale is most highly recommended.