Manuel follows in his brother’s footsteps as he jumps a train that will take him to the U.S.–Mexico border.
“Call me Manuel.” Johnston and Fontanot de Rhoads evoke Moby-Dick’s iconic opening in setting the scene for Manuel, a 12-year-old Mexican boy, to conquer The Beast and reunite with his brother Toño. Leaving behind his corn-farming family and the milpita they work in Oaxaca, Manuel rides The Beast, a name given by locals to the many trains traveling north. For many The Beast is a vehicle that will lead them to their hopes and dreams. For others, it is a monster that will tear away their limbs and disable them for life. With danger lurking on each train car, Manuel must be cautious of the brutal gangs that prey on the weak and rely on the bond that unites migrants on their harrowing journey and the patrons who help riders tame The Beast. Like the chugging of The Beast, Johnston’s poetic prose permeates Manuel’s journey and gives a steady rhythm to the story even as Oaxaca-based psychotherapist and translator Fontanot de Rhoads provides details to ground it. Without shying away from the cruel and often crude journey that migrants experience, the authors deliver a captivating story of travelers dreaming a better future and their incandescent fight to achieve it.
A beautiful, visceral plunge into the perils that the train-jumping migrant brotherhood experiences. (Fiction. 12-14)