A Mexican-American family in Texas finds their home turned into a way station for immigrants smuggled across the border.
Cásares (Amigoland, 2009, etc.) returns to his hometown of Brownsville for a potent novel about the complexities of immigration and the lies we tell ourselves and our families. Twelve-year-old Orly is from Houston, has light skin, and speaks passable Spanish even though he strongly prefers English and sometimes denies knowing Spanish at all. After his mother’s sudden death, Orly is sent by his dad to spend the summer with his aunt Nina in Brownsville. Unbeknownst to him, Nina has a small, pink casita in her backyard being used by coyotes moving human cargo north. Neither Nina nor Orly quite knows how they got into their situations. Orly’s brother is at camp, his father is in Napa with a new girlfriend, and his mother’s absence is a gaping hole so big he can’t see the other side. Just when Nina thinks she’s rid of the smugglers for good, a young boy named Daniel knocks on her back door in the middle of the night after narrowly escaping Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Nina puts him up in the casita and now has to hide her secret from Orly, her elderly mother, and her bossy brother. As Nina, Orly, and Daniel learn each other’s secrets, the reader is treated to a novel that addresses the complexity of immigration, identity, and assimilation while telling close, intimate stories. The novel is told in a roaming third person that turns each character, no matter how seemingly one-dimensional or minor, into a powerful presence. Each voice in this chorus has something urgent to say. Cásares devotes a page or so of italicized backstory to seemingly minor characters who would drift out of a different novel without a second glance: a raspas vendor, a coyote quickly arrested, a Brownsville police officer, Orly’s English teacher, and many more. Whether it’s the teacher about to be deported, a man who doesn’t concern himself with the fact that his own mother used to be undocumented, or the many people making the dangerous crossing who are beset by tragedy, these asides all reveal the sometimes-hidden yet always profound effects of immigration. Helping us learn the truth about who we are individually and as a society is the ultimate goal of this novel.
In some ways timely, this quiet, delicate book delivers a truly timeless emotional punch.