I Am a Taxi

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by Deborah Ellis. Novel. 205 pages. Grades 5-8.
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Review

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Diego is twelve and lives with his mom and younger sister in a cell in a women's prison in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Diego and the other kids living in the prison are allowed to come and go. Diego runs errands for the women prisoners as a "taxi" to earn money for the family and goes to school on the outside.

Diego's father is in a prison nearby and Diego and his sister are free to visit him there. The family was traveling by bus when someone else's small packets of coca paste were found taped beneath their seats and so for the last four years they've been living in the prisons along with countless other families.

Diego's viewpoint is very matter-of-fact about their lives in the prisons and so the tone is not maudlin or pitiful though the details are stark. Diego's parents love him and his sister and are trying to raise them well. Still, Diego knows how bad they have it and longs to have them all back in their rural home. His parents, however, have thirteen more years to serve.

When Diego looses track of his sister when he's supposed to be watching her the women's prison's self-governing board takes away his taxi job. Desperate to help his mom pay for cell rent and food he takes a disastrous risk.


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