Terrorized and threatened by a local drug gang, a 12-year-old boy and his 15-year-old cousin flee their Guatemalan village and seek refuge in the United States.
After the Alphas murder his cousin Miguel for refusing to join, Jaime Rivera receives an ultimatum: join the Alphas or else suffer the same fate. Ángela, Miguel’s older sister, also falls prey to the violent gang’s demands. With little recourse, Jaime and Ángela must journey north to los Estados Unidos, where Jaime’s older brother awaits them. Crossing into Mexico after a nighttime getaway, Jaime and Ángela meet fellow runaway teens, each with different reasons for fleeing home. Their passage, nevertheless, proves treacherous for everyone, child or adult. “La migra, trains, bandits, and more gangs. Everything seemed worse than what they had left behind.” Though Jaime and Ángela’s story features dizzying acts of violence and abuse, Diaz explores such complex, grim matters with great care. The author’s use of third-person narration situates readers at a distance from the horrors that assail the protagonists while at the same time allowing opportunities to dig into Jaime’s grief during crucial moments. It’s Jaime’s sorrow over Miguel’s death that best defines Diaz’s novel, reminding readers of the real-life struggles afflicting many Latin American immigrants every day. Still, not many people get the happy ending served here.
A deft, harrowing, yet formulaic sketch of a complex subject. (author’s note, glossary, further reading, resource list, bibliography) (Fiction. 8-12)