The Other Side of the River

the other side of the river

From the award-winning author of Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna, Alda P. Dobbs, comes a compelling new novel about building a new life in America. Strong and determined, Petra Luna returns in a story about the immigrant experience that continues to be relevant today.

Petra Luna is in America, having escaped the Mexican Revolution and the terror of the Federales. Now that they are safe, Petra and her family can begin again, in this country that promises so much. Still, twelve-year-old Petra knows that her abuelita, little sister, and baby brother depend on her to survive. She leads her family from a smallpox-stricken refugee camp on the Texas border to the buzzing city of San Antonio, where they work hard to build a new life. And for the first time ever, Petra has a chance to learn to read and write.

Yet Petra also sees in America attitudes she thought she'd left behind on the other side of the Río Grande―people who look down on her mestizo skin and bare feet, who think someone like her doesn't deserve more from life. Petra wants more. Isn't that what the revolution is about? Her strength and courage will be tested like never before as she fights for herself, her family, and her dreams.

Petra's first story, Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna, was a New York Public Library Book of the Year and a Texas Bluebonnet Master List Selection.---from the publisher

368 pages                                978-1728238449                                       Ages 8-12

Keywords:  historical fiction, immigrants, immigration,  Latina, family life, refugees, 8 year old, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old


Petra, her younger sister and brother, and abuelita are in a refugee camp in the US, along with Dona Juanita in 1913, having come from Mexico, where the revolution made their lives untenable. Petra's mother has passed away, and she is hoping to find her father in the US, since her grandmother is 58 and not in the best health. (N.B. I'm 57!) The camp is going to close soon, so everyone needs to find a job. Petra is the only one in her family who can work, but the recruiters are not interested in her. She manages to buy tickets from another family that will take them to San Antonio. Once there, they go to Wesley House, where the nuns help them get cleaned up from their long journey and instruct them to go to see Mr. Bob to rent a shack in a very busy immigrant area.
The rent is reasonable, especially when a neighbor helps Petra get a job helping a woman who sells chili. Petra works hard and is responsible, and the family thrives. Abuelita shells pecans while watching the younger children. When an incident causes Petra to lose her job, she is luck to be hired on to help Sister Nora with housekeeping at the church. She and the nun, who left Ireland with her sister to escape the potato famine there, bond when the nun helps Petra learn to read and shares her love of books with her. Petra has an opportunity to help a man named Mr. Knox with his new school, but when she stands up to some well to do young ladies who say disrespectful things about immigrants like Petra, she is worried that she will lose this chance. She runs into her cousin Pablo but is still looking for her father. Will Petra's hard work keep her family afloat until she can find him?
Strengths: I was always enthralled with how hard Francie Nolan had to work in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Petra certainly works even harder! It's important for young readers to understand that 100 years ago and more, children were expected to do a lot more work, especially when they were in difficult circumstances, like Petra is. The fact that this is based on the author's family history, and includes as a character the man after whom her school was named adds another layer of interest. I was particularly fond of Sister Nora and thought it was so charming how she and Petra were able to connect over their shared experiences of being immigrants. There are good details about San Antonio that are probably especially interesting for readers who are familiar with the city now.
Weaknesses: I wish there had been a few more details about the place that the family lived, the clothing they wore, and how they cooked the food that they ate, since those would all have been so different from today's situation. There is a marvelous scene where Sister Nora gives Petra stockings and shoes, and Petra is so surprised-- she thinks that all shoes hurt! That's the sort of detail I would love to see more of.
What I really think: I will definitely purchase for fans of Behar's Letters from Cuba and Meltzer's Tough Times and will recommend to students who complain to me that they don't like their new cell phones!
Recommended by:  Karen Yingling, Teacher Librarian, Ohio, USA
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