Gary Soto's multicultural book, Taking Sides, is a story about a Hispanic junior high age boy who trying to figure out whom he is and where his loyalty lies. Lincoln, a Mexican American, lives with his single, divorced mother. They just recently sold their house in the urban Mission District of San Francisco to a nice suburban home in Sycamore, CA, ten miles from their previous, poor neighborhood. Lincoln is a star basketball player. As game day approaches between his former and new school, he wrestles internally with confusion over which shcool he should be true to.
Being the new kid in school isn't easy. He likens himself to a camel in his geography book, "Brown as dirt and no one knows his name" (p.14). But Lincoln seems to be finding his way. He has made friends, especially James, who has him over to his house for a meal of venison, which seems exotic to Lincoln. He is a starter on the basketball team. He has his eyes on a young lady, Monica, who seems to be reciprocating his feelings. He also still thinks about his old girlfriend, Vicky.
However, he's unhappy about his mom dating a portly white man, Roy. When he hurts his knee badly while shooting hoops with Monica and his new home is broken into while he is sleeping, he becomes depressed and doesn't want to play against Franklin, his former school.
In the end, his mom's boyfriend, Roy turns out to be alright. They come to the game together even though Lincoln has been benched because the coach accuses him of having a negative attitude. (The coach is stereotypically characterized as unfair and spiteful throughout the book.) Towards the end of the game, Coach puts Lincoln in. He does an unbelievable job and closes the large point gap between the two schools. His former school is too far ahead to catch up with at this point and they win the game. Lincoln is proud of how he played. He was loyal to himself and played his personal best. He did it for himself, not for his new school. "He wasn't going to try to beat Franklin, but he wasn't going to let Columbus [new school] look like losers either. Lincoln was going to play for himself, not school pride" (p.128.)
Lincoln discovered that he needed to be true to himself, not to other people or organizations. In the end he came away feeling like a winner and the book comes to a close with a positive resolution. On page 127 one reads, "He was brown, not white; poor, not rich; city, not suburbia. He couldnt help where he lived now. As he sat on the sidelines he realized he couldn't deny who he was." He seems to have found a balance between letting go of his former life (including Vicky) and embracing his new one, just as he is.
Many children and young adults can relate to the theme in this book. Infinite numbers of children and young adults have experienced being the new kid in a school at some time or another. The Mexican male teen protagonist displays proud multiculturalism. Spanish terms are sprinkled throughout the book, giving it rich Mexican flair (with a helpful glossary in the back.) I enjoyed reading this book and would gladly recommend it.
Soto, Gary. 1991. TAKING SIDES. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company. ISBN: 0-15-284076-1.
This site has some ideas for teachers to use when they teach with this book:
Want to read more about Gary Soto? Here is page about him. He even includes a recipe for his favorite food, frijoles (beans):