On the run from narcos, four Mexican teens flee home and head to the U.S. in Schafer’s audacious YA debut.
The all-black car lingers. Pato sees it, and the concealed people within, but he sets his worries aside as he joins his family and friends at his cousin’s quinceañera. It happens in an instant: gunshots like firecrackers fill the air. Suddenly, everyone’s gone except for Pato, his best friend, Arbo, tough guy Marcos, and Pato’s obligatory love interest, Gladys. This opening sequence—one among a handful of equally suspenseful scenes, including a car chase in the border town of Sonoyta—makes the quieter, bleaker moments that follow seem all the more intense, stressing the desperate troubles these teens endure. Behind the massacre is a cartel group known as La Frontera, who publicize a reward for the capture of Pato and friends. This bounty scares off the shellshocked teens, sending them across the U.S.–Mexico border and into the blazing Sonoran Desert, where the devastating heat poses more of a threat than the border patrols and coyotes that operate in it. Looming over them in their escape is the uncertainty of life in the U.S., an apprehension that Schafer weaves throughout and summarizes in one raw, timely exchange: “You think they want you in their country? They don’t.” Revelations come in inevitable wallops (why were Pato’s family and friends targeted?). Attempts at humor and fleshing out the bonds between characters sometimes ease things up but not always. This difficult balance is best summed up by Pato and Gladys’ relationship, which is simultaneously out of place and, yet, disarmingly human.
Messy and thrilling, flawed and often brilliant. (author’s note) (Fiction. 14-18)