Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Only Road

The Only Road by Alexandria Diaz (2016)

Jaime and his cousin Miguel were asked to join a gang in their native Guatemala and refused, and now Miguel is dead. The gang wants Jaime and his cousin Angela, so their parents decide the only solution is for the two to make their way to the United States to live with Jaime's older brother. They don't have passports or very much money, but their families pool everything they've got and make a plan. Together, Jaime and Angela take buses and trains, stay in refugee camps, and entrust themselves to strangers - sometimes regretting it - to try and escape to a better life.

This is one of our picks for the Community Read committee at my library. We asked for suggestions from the public and many, many people wanted something about immigration. This definitely fits the bill, and it's a middle grade book so it's accessible to people of many ages.

I found it pretty easy to get into, and I liked the characters a lot. Jaime was a budding artist and as he traveled, his sketchbook was his prized possession and he was always worried about losing it. I can't even imagine leaving my life for another country with only a backpack. How do you decide what to bring? Angela was almost sixteen and I think she felt a responsibility to be a bit more in charge, but also she was only sixteen. I know that in real life kids do leave their homes for similar reason and try to get to the US and it is mind-boggling. They're kids! It's hard enough for an adult to do what they did.

I think my only criticism really is that, despite the hardships and dangers of this journey, I felt like these characters probably wouldn't have made it in real life. They would have been caught and sent back home, stranded somewhere in Mexico for years, or killed. They just kept lucking out. But the author acknowledges this in her note at the end and, really, it's a book for kids. You can have a couple of people die or go missing, but you've got to let these kids reach their destination fairly unscathed or nobody is going to let their kid read this. I think it's a good way to introduce the idea of immigration, and the necessity and dangers of illegal immigration, without scaring the pants off kids. You just want to make them be compassionate, not traumatized.

This was pretty good, despite my trepidation because it's a middle grade book which I'm not usually super keen on. Also, you may not have noticed, but I don't ever read any kind of Latin American literature. I once tried reading Love in the Time of Cholera and then I tried reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and I couldn't get through either of them and I became convinced that I just dislike Latin American books and/or authors, and that something is very very wrong with me. This is ridiculous of course, and I'm very glad to have actually finished and enjoyed this book because maybe it will snap me out of this silly mindset. Oh! And there's a glossary of all the Spanish words used, which would have been awesome to know about before I reached the end (though it was easy to figure them out through context.)

In terms of the Community Read, I don't yet know what my top pick will be, but I can at least say that I wouldn't be upset if this was it. It's not the sort of book that I'll be thinking about for weeks and recommending to everyone I know, but it was a good story on a topic that is important and relevant and I enjoyed reading it.

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