Tag Archives: middle school

The Improbable Rise of Paco Jones


Paco Jones is a bi-racial 13-year-old, half Mexican and half white, and the new kid at his fancy private school. Nicknamed ‘Taco’ by his less-then-friendly wealthy white classmates, Paco is looking at a few years of isolation and ridicule. It might be different if he stood out for something other than his name and skin colour, like talent on the basketball court, or brilliance in the classroom. But no, he’s just a regular student and benchwarmer on the team. And he gets pooped on by a bird his first week. Great.

But the poop leads him to meet Naomi Fox, an African-American girl in his grade, beautiful, popular, and his soulmate. Of course, he can’t tell her he’s in love, as she is dating Trent, the most popular boy in the school. But at least he finds a friend. And then he spikes the punch at a dance on a dare, kids get drunk, and suddenly he has a newfound popularity.

This book is written as a flashback from Paco’s perspective as he himself is a middle-grade teacher, years later. Because of that, I think the characters and behaviours are a bit more mature than I would have expected from a group of 13 and 14-year-olds. Naomi and Paco were wonderful characters, but they aren’t written as young teens.

Paco is very relatable for anyone who didn’t quite fit in during those middle school years. Which I think was more of us than not. He is trying to figure out who he is and how he fits in, both at school and in life. He is aware of his parents’ expectations for him and follows in the footsteps of an older brother who didn’t want to follow that route. He gives in a little more easily to peer pressure than I would have liked, but in his circumstances, probably most would.

Naomi is a lovely, self-assured girl who also deals with racism and peer pressure. Trent is pushing for sex and she wants to wait, but she lets people think they are, to boost his reputation. She finds an understanding friend in Paco and the two form a bond that goes beyond shared bullying and pressures at school.

Paco’s parents are a present and strong force in the book and in the boy’s life. They are aware of the pressures they place on him and the abuse he takes at school, but also believe that he can live up to their expectations, and rise above the other petty behaviour. They do not dismiss the bullying and racism, but realize, sadly, that it isn’t going to end anytime soon, and Paco must figure out a way to deal with it. They see his schooling as a great opportunity and want him to realize it as well.

The cast of secondary adult characters really contributes to the novel. The teachers and coaches and principal of the school all bring their own baggage and ideas to the story, and Paco takes away lessons from each encounter with them.

This is an uplifting story about a young boy who is learning about himself and his place in the world. (And the cover is GORGEOUS). Author Dominic Carrillo talks about peer pressure and the fleetingness of fame and popularity, and how in the end, you must be yourself. It is a nice, fast read for anyone, and a great story for kids trying to find out where they fit in.

The Improbable Rise of Paco Jones was published March 27th, 2016 by CSP-Createspace.

Dead Jed: Adventures of a Middle School Zombie


I obviously have the sense of humour of a 12 year old boy, because I laughed my ass off reading this book. SO FUNNY. Like snort your tea out your nose funny. I’m still giggling. But it’s more than hilarious. It’s also clever and charming and even a little bit romantic. You know, in the goth/zombie sense.

Jed is 12 years old, starting grade 7 at Pine Hollow Middle School.  And he’s dead.  Or undead. Cardiovascularly challenged. Flatline enhanced. A zombie. While most kids just have to worry about navigating classes and a new social structure in middle school, Jed worries about losing body parts. An unexpected sneeze can land his nose across the room (his record is 11 feet, 3 inches. Epic.) A particularly hard punt from the kicker while he holds the ball in position during a football game can send his hand through the uprights along with the ball. Wrong angle going into a trash can, and he can lose an arm. But lucky for him, all he needs is the heavy duty stapler and the duct tape that he always carries in his backpack, and he’s back in the action.

Robbie is in his 4th year of middle school, and makes it his mission to torture Jed as much as possible – shoving him in the trash can, locking him in the trophy case, removing his limbs and tossing them as far away as possible. The principal doesn’t think a kid with Jed’s challenges should be at his school, and looks the other way.

But Jed has his best friend Luke, and new friends Anna and Javon and Ray and Chris, and countless other students and teachers who look past his grey skin and “ooze” and see the boy.

Jed is a typical boy (minus the zombie thing). He doesn’t really like school, wonders what he will be when he grows up, gets pissed at his parents for being, well, parents, and is tongue-tied around girls. He wants to be like everyone else, wonders what it would be like, but can see the benefits of standing out in the crowd. Sometimes.

Author Scott Craven addresses good mid-grade themes – bullying, friendship, family dynamics, sexuality and self-esteem. He deals with each topic with dry humour and frankness, and (again, minus the zombie thing, unless you went to a very different school than I did) the scenes are all familiar and relevant.

This is a great middle school read, but ANYONE who loves a good laugh will have fun with it (as long as you don’t mind a good description of squelching an arm back in place…) Don’t miss the second and third books in the series, Dawn of the Jed and Return of the Jed.

Dead Jed is published by Month9Books, LLC.