Two brothers live the American dream—sort of—in this funny, moving novel.
Jesse is a gentle story of a gentle boy growing into manhood. There is violence-Jesse must fight a bully twice-and there is an ominous background of a drunken stepfather, poverty and prejudice in Mexican-American life, and the era of Vietnam. Author Gary Soto nevertheless writes in a quiet tone of hope and faith. Jesse, artistic and religious, is forced to field work to pay for food while he attends a junior college after leaving high school. He remembers that once "I worked on my knees nine hours - one hundred seventy-eight trays of grapes-so I could buy my mom an umbrella." The book ends with the shock of Abel, Jesse's older brother, being drafted. A friend (named Jesus) tells Jesse not to follow by enlisting. Instead he returns to summer field labor. Readers of Jesse will gain appreciation for a young man persevering amid family dysfunction, ethnic injustice, and confusion about goals and girls.