A young boy gets detained by ICE while crossing the border from Mexico to the United States in this timely and unflinching novel by award-winning author Alexandra Diaz.
The bed creaks under Santiago’s shivering body. They say a person’s life flashes by before dying. But it’s not his whole life. Just the events that led to this. The important ones, and the ones Santiago would rather forget.
The coins in Santiago’s hand are meant for the bus fare back to his abusive abuela’s house. Except he refuses to return; he won’t be missed. His future is uncertain until he meets the kind, maternal María Dolores and her young daughter, Alegría, who help Santiago decide what comes next: He will accompany them to el otro lado, the United States of America. They embark with little, just backpacks with water and a bit of food. To travel together will require trust from all parties, and Santiago is used to going it alone. None of the three travelers realizes that the journey through Mexico to the border is just the beginning of their story.---from the publisher
336 pages 978-1-5344-4623-6 Ages 8-12
Keywords: refugee, diversity, diverse books, separation, bureaucracy, journey, Mexico, kindness, helping others, hope, compassion, immigration, government, social issues, social conditions, social commentary, 8 year old, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old
“With unflinching conviction, Diaz sketches a frank, brief account of refugee youth in an uncaring bureaucratic system.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"‘Why do they separate us?’
‘Because they can.’”
“I see my light come shining
From the west down to the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released”
-- Bob Dylan (1967)
“The Trump administration has admitted to separating an additional 1,500 children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border under its ‘zero tolerance’ family separation policy, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The additional numbers bring the total number of children separated from their families since July 2017 under the Trump administration up to more than 5,400.
‘It is shocking that 1,556 more families--including babies and toddlers--join the thousands of others already torn apart by this inhumane and illegal policy.’ Lee Gelernt, the lead attorney in the family separation lawsuit and deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement to Newsweek.
‘Families have suffered tremendously, and some may never recover,’ Gelernt said. ‘The gravity of this situation cannot be overstated.’”
-- Newsweek (10/25/19)
SANTIAGO’S ROAD HOME begins in Mexico. Twelve year-old Santiago has been an orphan since he was five. Having never been permitted to attend school, he’s been treated like a burden. Shuffled from relative to relative, he has most recently been living with a second cousin, and taking care of the cousin’s three young children.
When the cousin’s husband loses his job, Santiago is abruptly handed coins for bus fare and shown the door. Santiago is determined not to return to his abusive grandmother who beat him and sometimes expressed her displeasure by branding him with her lit cigarettes.
Now, out on his own, and starving, he hopes to persuade a food vendor to exchange a meal for some work. That’s when he meets a young woman, with a preschool-aged daughter, who offers to share her meal with him.
“‘We’re just passing through. Going to el otro lado, where my sister lives. She and her husband own a restaurant and asked if I could help them out.’
‘Sounds nice.’ He tried to hide the bitterness from his voice. That they had a place to go, that people wanted her and her daughter there. From the table he picked up a piece of zucchini that had fallen from his tortilla. He squashed it between two fingers then ate it. He couldn’t waste food now when later his stomach would once again audition for the orchestra.
María Dolores continued, not worrying about speaking with her mouth full. ‘If you think this food’s good, you should try my sister’s cooking. I swear, she talks to her ingredients, and they return the favor by turning into meals that sing back. I don’t have that talent. Instead, I excel at taste testing.
Santiago forced a smile at her joke and shoved the last of the piled tortilla into his mouth. The little girl, Alegría, once again offered him her bone, which still had a few bits of meat clinging to it, and once again he shook his head.
‘You eat it, chiquitín.’ He smiled and nodded to her. ‘I’m getting full,’ he lied, but his thoughts turned in a new direction.
El otro lado. He could get a job there. According to rumors, even the lowest-paid jobs earned more per hour than the daily wage here in México; food was so plentiful, grocery stores threw items away when they got old. And best of all, it was far away from here.
He wiped his mouth with his hand and ran his tongue over his teeth to make sure no food stuck to them. Shoulders back and sitting up straight in the plastic chair to make a good impression, Santiago looked directly into María Dolores’s eyes.
‘I want to go with you two. To el otro lado.’”
SANTIAGO’S ROAD HOME is gut-wrenching, edge-of-your-seat, middle-grade fiction. Through their tortuous journey into the United States, Santiago bonds with María Dolores and Alegría. They make a pledge to protect one another and to live together as family.
Unfortunately, they eventually collapse from heat stroke and María Dolores comes close to dying. Fortunately, they are discovered in time. Unfortunately, Santiago and Alegría aren’t permitted to ride along in the ambulance. Instead, they are taken to a government facility where they are immediately separated from one another. For the next six months, confined under horrible conditions, desperate to get out, Santiago doesn’t know the fate of his two new sisters. His experience is something I won’t soon forget.
“As soon as she disappears into a room, Santiago asks, ‘What’s that about?’
Señor Dante takes his time answering but doesn’t hide the bitterness in his voice. ‘She’s an immigration lawyer. Every day for the last week she’s been delivering breast milk from her client to her client’s baby.’
‘They took a baby away from her mother?’
‘Everyone is separated.’”
Alexandra Diaz explains in her Author’s Note that this fictional tale is filled with depictions of conditions and situations that reflect what the Trump administration actually did to these poor kids. Sadly, despite court orders and years gone by, there are actually some children who still have yet to be reunited with their families. There is no question that these atrocities have diminished the standing of the United States, both in the eyes of our allies and our adversaries. It will go down in history as one of those dark moments when the U.S. lost its way.
Fortunately for readers, there is a happy and hopeful conclusion to Santiago’s story. We can only hope that, in the real world, the affected children will recover from their ordeals, and those responsible for this inhumane behavior will be held to account.
When I tell people that the best of today’s literature for young people doesn’t take a backseat to adult literature, this is exactly the sort of book that I’m talking about.
336 pages 978-1-5344-4623-6
Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA
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