Caught in the crosshairs of gang violence, a teen girl and her mother set off on a perilous journey from Guatemala City to the US border in this heart-wrenching young adult novel from the author of Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From.
For seventeen-year-old Maya, trashion is her passion, and her talent for making clothing out of unusual objects landed her a scholarship to Guatemala City’s most prestigious art school and a finalist spot in the school’s fashion show. Mamá is her biggest supporter, taking on extra jobs to pay for what the scholarship doesn’t cover, and she might be even more excited than Maya about what the fashion show could do for her future career.
So when Mamá doesn’t come to the show, Maya doesn’t know what to think. But the truth is worse than she could have imagined. The gang threats in their neighborhood have walked in their front door—with a boy Maya considered a friend, or maybe more, among them. After barely making their escape, Maya and her mom have no choice but to continue their desperate flight all the way through Guatemala and Mexico in hopes of crossing the US border.
They have to cross. They must cross! Can they?
About the Author
Jennifer De Leon is an author, editor, speaker, and creative writing professor who lives outside of Boston. She is the editor of Wise Latinas: Writers on Higher Education, the 2015–2016 Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library, and a 2016–2017 City of Boston Artist-in-Residence. She is also the second recipient of the We Need Diverse Books grant. She is the author of Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From and Borderless.
Maya feels hurt that her mother, her biggest cheerleader, wasn’t there to see her triumph at a school event, but that hurt curdles into terror as she enters their home and finds her mother tied to a chair, masked men looming. The book then backtracks, detailing Maya’s life in the weeks leading to that moment. She and Mama live in the poorer neighborhood of Guatemala City, where her mother fears the encroaching gang activity, but if Maya can win the fashion show at her elite fashion school, she’ll receive a financial prize that might change their lives for the better. Maya’s best friend Lisbeth gets a new boyfriend who makes Maya feel uneasy, but his cousin, Sebastian, recently deported from the United States, seems kind, and he’s curious about Maya’s art (he’s also cute and smells amazing). Unfortunately, the boys’ arrival catalyzes a series of events that result in Maya and her mother fleeing for their lives. The chapters relaying Maya and her mother crossing the border are viscerally distressing, but surprisingly, they take up little of narrative. Instead, this rich story reads like a letter to Guatemala’s people, houses, nature, and sense of community. It’s a place and a life that readers will easily grow attached to and feel true sympathy for Maya as she’s forced to leave it behind. De Leon expertly crafts every aspect of this book: the characters are complex and act their age, their relationships organically develop, and the pacing keeps the story moving. It’s difficult, then, to tell if the ending feels rushed, showing the brutality and cruelty of ICE and the American immigration system, or if it’s simply a cliffhanger, leaving the reader in as nebulous and tenuously hopeful a place as Maya. Overall, De Leon’s story offers a real-world truth: immigrants face some of the greatest injustices and uncertain futures, but they carry with them their past, their loves, and a powerful glimmer of hope. ART
The book illustrates the violent consequences of structural poverty, as readers are introduced to characters trying to do the best they can with what they’ve been handed. Their desperation is communicated vividly as well as their determination to keep their loved ones safe.
An engrossing exploration of youths and gang violence.
— Kirkus Reviews