After their families are gunned down by a drug gang, four teens attempt to cross the Sonoran Desert from Mexico into the US in this intense but flawed YA novel.
Characterization is thin but serviceable: Pato is the thoughtful narrator, his cousin and best friend Arbo is dependable, Marcos is a tough guy and his independent sister, Gladys, is Pato’s somewhat perfunctory love interest.
The trek, which forms the bulk of the narrative, is grueling as the teens run out of water in the intense heat and have run-ins with both human and animal predators, all the while having little idea what they will face if they make it to the US.
Debut author Schafer’s note details his research and he successfully puts a human face on undocumented immigration, but he has also unfortunately focused on all the negative stereotypes of Mexico: drug cartels, corruption, and “illegal passage”. Spanish is mostly used for cursing.
While it is important for American teen readers to have more context to aid understanding of what drives immigrants, the novel does both readers and immigrants a disservice by focusing on this “single story.” Reviewed from an ARC.