Efrén Divided

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Efrén Nava’s Amá is his Superwoman—or Soperwoman, named after the delicious Mexican sopes his mother often prepares. Both Amá and Apá work hard all day to provide for the family, making sure Efrén and his younger siblings Max and Mía feel safe and loved.

But Efrén worries about his parents; although he’s American-born, his parents are undocumented. His worst nightmare comes true one day when Amá doesn’t return from work and is deported across the border to Tijuana, México.

Now more than ever, Efrén must channel his inner Soperboy to help take care of and try to reunite his family.---from the publisher

272 pages                  978-0062881687                       Ages 8-12

Keywords:  Latino, immigrants, fears,  undocumented immigrants, family, parents, deportation, grandmother, 8 year old, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, Latino author, diverse books, diversity, social issues, social commentary, social conditions

Other reviews:

“We need books to break open our hearts, so that we might feel more deeply, so that we might be more human in these unkind times. This is a book doing work of the spirit in a time of darkness.” —Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street 

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“We’ll meet on the the other side

There, across the border”

-- Bruce Springsteen (1995)

“‘But she isn’t coming home, is she?’

Apá rushed to Efrén’s side and knelt by the mattress.

‘Son...look at me. It is just a delay. Nothing more. I swear.’

Efrén squeezed his eyes shut, but no matter how much he tried to stop them, tears managed to seep down his face.

‘It’s okay to cry. I miss her too.’

That was all the permission Efrén needed. He leapt into his father’s arms, tucking his face into his chest.

Apá’s own sobbing caused his body to bob up and down as if he were hiccuping. Efrén couldn’t remember ever seeing his father cry like this. Not because Apá was too macho for something like that. Not Apá. If anything, he simply didn’t want to add to the family’s problems--like when he got sick last month and Amá had to force him to stay home from work.

Despite his burning temperature, Apá insisted doctors were all quacks and that all they ever do is suggest Tylenol, rest, and plenty of water. It wasn’t until Amá raised her voice and scolded him about the poor example he was setting for his children that she finally got him to admit the truth: that he didn’t want to spend the Christmas money he’d set aside for the family on himself.

As it turned out, the doctor found Apá had pneumonia, something Amá blamed on the long hours he spent working in the cold.

Apá was tough as nails. Seeing him cry like this meant that things were really bad.

And it scared Efrén. Scared him a lot.”

Like Efrén Nava, I’m a firstborn. Some studies have shown that being number one in the birth order can carry significant advantages. But, as I can attest, it also can be quite a challenge. Sometimes you find yourself in a parental role without the maturity or tools that real parents possess.

Efrén, who is in seventh grade, has twin siblings in kindergarten, Max and Mia.  They don’t know what’s going on; they are just incredibly unhappy because Amá is gone and, to their young way of thinking, Efrén is a poor substitute for mama.

But Amá’s been deported to Tijuana and Apá is working night and day to raise enough money to pay a coyote to get his wife back over the border. So Efrén has to care for the distressed twins while also attending middle school and dealing with the social issues there.

The three children are American citizens, their parents undocumented. So there’s a constant threat that ICE could also catch and deport Apá. As the story progresses, one of Efrén’s schoolmates, also an American citizen, has little choice but to leave the country when ICE grabs her mother. Without other family here, the schoolmate’s only immediate alternative is staying under the control of Social Services.

This story really got to me. I believe that immigrants work hard and are just “struggling to build their families and claim some small share of America,” as was noted in a famous speech by first-generation Italian-American, Mario Cuomo in 1984.

EFRÉN DIVIDED reminds me that it is nothing more than luck that my Sicilian grandparents arrived in America in an era when the gates were open. Efrén’s parents are every bit the good parents and community members as my grandparents. But today we are living through a particularly rough time for immigrants, who are always handy scapegoats for demagogues.

EFRÉN DIVIDED is an exceptional tale of the immigrant experience. I recommend it for 9-14 year olds.

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

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