Soto's poetry focuses on daily experiences, often reflecting on his life as a Chicano. Regarding his relationship with the Mexican-American community, Soto commented "as a writer, my duty is not to make people perfect, particularly Mexican Americans. I’m not a cheerleader. I’m one who provides portraits of people in the rush of life."
Soto writes novels, plays and memoirs, and has edited several literary anthologies. His story "The No-Guitar Blues" was made into a film, and he produced another film based on his book "The Pool Party." He is a prolific writer of children's books.
About his work Joyce Carol Oates noted "Gary Soto's poems are fast, funny, heartening, and achingly believable, like Polaroid love letters, or snatches of music heard out of a passing car; patches of beauty like patches of sunlight; the very pulse of a life."