Fleeing from violence at home, 13-year-old Manuelito braves the journey through Mexico to the United States.
As the repercussions of war fade away, Manuelito’s Guatemalan village returns to normality. School resumes (even though Manuelito finds it tedious), and he finds plenty of time to play with friends, including Coco Loco. Suddenly, a new kind of war commences. Menacing, armed groups begin to disrupt village life: the PACs (Armed Civil Patrol); the maras, gangs of tattooed men; and government soldiers. To avoid gang recruitment or death, Manuelito’s parents send him off to Tía Adela, who resides in the U.S. Joined by Coco Loco, Manuelito arrives in Mexico following a river crossing only to fall prey to the Coyote. Setbacks bombard the young boy, but he eventually crosses the Río Bravo into the U.S., where he surrenders himself to Border Patrol as an asylum seeker. Just as Manuelito begins anew in the U.S., the arrival of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement derails his life yet again. An undercurrent of tragic inevitability in the text lends urgency to Manuelito’s narration, which delineates the circumstances of his escape without wallowing in sentimentality. The author’s preference for universal appeal posits Manuelito as a symbol of child refugees; as a result, the novel loses that extra spark that would make this story more memorable. Meanwhile, the stark, colorless illustrations hint at grueling ordeals.
A blunt, effective record of the refugee crisis that’s wounding the Americas. (afterword) (Graphic novel. 12-15)