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I Am a Taxi (The Cocalero Novels)

by Deborah Ellis

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13610148,906 (4.03)7
Living with his family in a prison in Bolivia due to his parents' convictions for drug trafficking, twelve-year-old Diego does his best to live a normal life, but when his mother receives additional fines, Diego risks everything to earn quick money.



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This Canadian book combines a beautifully told story with an education on what it is like to live in Bolivia with widespread corruption. Twelve-year-old Diego's parents were on a bus where cocaine was found taped underneath their seat. Although uninvolved, they were both imprisoned. For the mother, this meant having her children imprisoned with her. Diego, allowed to come and go, runs errands for prisoners for a small fee - a taxi. This helps his mother with the cost of renting the cell and buying food because nothing is supplied in Bolivian prisons.

His friend convinces him that there are ways of making more money although neither of them know exactly what it entails or what they will earn. They find themselves in the jungle forced into slave labour for the cocaine trade.

Ellis writes a convincing story, that shows more than one way of life in Bolivia. The US “War on Drugs” in 1968 led to targeting indigenous growers of coca leaves, a crop that has cultural and health importance, and indirect support for corrupt regimes. Coca farmers were left without an income when their crops were destroyed. This exciting story, although sad, is a valuable book for middle school readers. The characters are excellent, believable. ( )
1 vote VivienneR | Mar 31, 2018 |
Booktalk: Diego lives in the women's prison with his mother and baby sister. His father lives in the men's prison across the way. Diego's parents were arrested when a packet of coca paste--an ingredient used to make the drug cocaine--was found under their seats on the bus. It wasn't their coca paste but Diego's parents got sent to jail anyway and now that's where they live with their children. Diego is only 12 years old but he considers himself a man who supports his family. He works hard as a "taxi," someone who runs errands for the other prisoners. He gets paid a few Bolivianos for his work. It's not much money but it's enough for his mother to buy food for them to eat. But Diego's best friend Mando, who lives in the men's prison with his father, knows of a job where they can make real money. Diego agrees to the job but what he doesn't know is that this job will take him away from his family, the bosses will abuse him, work so hard he can't stand up and he will never get paid serious money...in fact, he'll never get paid at all. Lib notes/spoilers: Diego works for members of a drug cartel, stomping the coca leaves to make into paste. Some scenes of coca leaf use as a stimulant to keep the boys working, a description of glue-sniffing homeless boys, description of coca leaves and use as a part of Bolivian culture. ( )
  Salsabrarian | Feb 2, 2016 |
A riveting, fascinating, and heartbreaking story. Well-researched and important. The main character steals your heart and never lets go. A powerful writer deserving of international recognition. ( )
  Bonnie_Ferrante | Apr 14, 2014 |
Very sad tale of the fall out from the U.S.'s war on drugs as it affects a smart hard working boy from a poor family in Bolivia. Somewhat simplistic with the good guys and bad guys, but paints a credible picture of the consequences for the poorest people in the 2nd poorest country in the Western hemisphere.
  Matt_B | Dec 1, 2013 |
This is a new author for me- and our librarian- Diane R. assures me that it is a switch from her norm. The book, although fiction- is a very believable portrayal of a family caught up in the conditions of poverty created in part by the drug trade in Bolivia. The main character- a young boy- 12(?) is the main wage earner for the family. Both parents are in prison and he and his sister are able to come and go between their parents. Diego attempting to earn some ‘real money’ is entrapped in a jungle camp where he and his friend are fed drugs and kept at work producing coca paste- which will later be refined into cocaine. This would be a good choice for middle years readers—several of last year’s grade nines come to mind. ( )
  HelenGress | Feb 1, 2013 |
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Living with his family in a prison in Bolivia due to his parents' convictions for drug trafficking, twelve-year-old Diego does his best to live a normal life, but when his mother receives additional fines, Diego risks everything to earn quick money.

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