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Review of THE IMPROBABLE RISE OF PACO JONES by Dominic Carrillo – 4.5 Stars

See full issue for 2016 10-31
by Candi Sary

The Rundown

The Improbable Rise of Paco Jones by Dominic Carrillo amusingly brings to life the challenges and the thrills of being a teenager.


Paco Jones is an unpopular bi-racial eighth-grader attending a new private school, where he tries his best to fit in. Secretly, he falls for a pretty classmate named Naomi, but she is dating Trent Oden, the most popular guy in school. Then a random note passing incident changes everything, and Paco becomes suddenly immersed in the cool kids’ world. He may not be one of them just yet, but he certainly has their attention—and soon an opportunity arises to impress them. In a desperate effort to win Naomi’s heart, he tries his best to do something cool, even if it is wrong. Paco then takes the reader on a most enjoyable coming-of-age journey full of honesty, humor and the endearing awkwardness of a teenager.


In school, Paco’s writing teacher tells the class: “And remember, be honest. It’s the key to good writing.” Honesty is certainly the key to this novel and Carrillo is an honest storyteller. He is able to illuminate his characters so that a greater truth about humanity comes shining through. He engages the subjects of love, racism, popularity, and ultimately self-identity in an authentic, relatable way. Paco’s deep sense of curiosity, his hopefulness, and his innocence about young love make him a charming and likable character. “She smelled like raspberry candy. It was probably perfume, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she was born that way.”


Carrillo keeps the story moving forward, a proper approach for his teenage audience, but I couldn’t help but feel that a writer with Carrillo’s sense of honesty and clarity might have made the novel even more powerful by drilling a bit deeper into some of its major themes. As is though, it is still a meaningful book and a great read—just on the lighter side.

The Recommendation

The Improbable Rise of Paco Jones is for readers who enjoy coming-of-age novels where the outcast rises up against all odds. Biracial teens should especially identify with this book. Carrillo even dedicates the book to them: “To the bicultural or biracial kids out there who have gone through the pain and confusion—along with the curiosity and beauty—of navigating the world and their identities without ever fitting neatly into one category.” In truth, all teens, no matter what their identity may be, will find valuable lessons in Carrillo’s charming little novel.

The Rating Reviewer Rating: 4.5 Stars

4.5 Stars (out of 5): Highly recommended. This book is a great read. It can hold its own against any traditionally published novel in its genre, and surpasses many.

The Pros & Cons

Pros: Characterization, Dialogue, Emotional
Cons: Very Short

The Links

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The Reviewer

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