Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz

After his cousin Miguel is beaten to death by a gang called the Alphas for refusing to join them, Jaime, 12, and Miguel’s sister Ángela, 15, receive a note from the gang instructing them to show up a a certain place in six days. Though the note doesn’t say it, both children know that they will meet the same fate as Miguel if they aren’t there.

The Alphas are a powerful gang of young people dealing in drugs and death, and even the drug addicted police chief is unable to do anything about their reign of terror in this small Guatemalan town.

Not wanting to lose more children to the gang, Jaime’s parents, together with Miguel’s parents decide to send them to live with Jaime’s older brother Tomás. Tomás has been legally living and working in New Mexico on a ranch. After gathering as much money together as they can, the two families say good-bye to their children one night as they climb into the back of a pickup truck that will smuggle them across the border into southern Mexico.

Arriving in Tapachula, Mexico, Jaime and Ángela realize they still have a long, dangerous journey ahead of them. They decide to take a bus from there to Arriaga, but even that proves to be an ordeal when corrupt immigration guards board it at a checkpoint not far from Tapachula. There, they watched a woman taken off the bus, while a guard tests Ángela's pronunciation to see if she sounds Guatemalan not Mexican.

Arriving in Arriaga, the cousins make their way over to a church that offers shelter to others who are also heading north, hoping to cross the border. The “priest’ at the church also helps runaways meet coyotes who will take them across the border for a price. From Arriaga, the cousins travel by train in a locked, airless freight car which takes them to the border of Mexico and New Mexico. Once again, they need to pay a coyote to take them across the border, finding work for a while to make the money to pay for the trip. Eventually, they do cross the Rio Bravo, only to find themselves in another refugee camp, awaiting Tomás’s arrival.

The Only Road is not an easy book to read despite being narrated by 12 year old Jaime, but he does humanize the plight of why Central American refugees are trying to get away from gang and drug infested towns for a better life. After Miguel’s death, it becomes clear that there are only three choices available for Jaime and Ángela are join the Alphas or be murdered by them, or runaway. I can’t imagine being put into the same position as their parents and having to make the decision to send them on a dangerous, iffy journey alone and so far away, with no guarantees they won’t be killed, or caught and sent home. 

Sneaking across the border becomes understandable when people find themselves in the kind of untenable situation that Jaime and Ángela's families faced and who had no recourse with the local governments that could not or would not protect the. In that respect, The Only Road shows how very vulnerable these young kids are to the people who will take advantage of them financially, with no compunction about leveling physical and sexual abuse on these desperate runaways. 

The Only Road is a very timely and poignant novel, especially with all the talk in Washington about building a southern border wall. It was inspired by real events, Jamie and Ángela's story reflecting the many young people trying to immigrate to the United States, a phenomena that has increased in recent years as gangs and gang violence has proliferated in Central America. One needs only to read the newspapers to understand what is happening.

There are lots of Spanish words used in this book and readers will find an in-depth Glossary in the back matter. There are also suggestions for Further Reading for All Ages, from picture books to YA, as well as Online Resources for more information. Diaz also includes a separate section of Further Reading for Teachers that may not be appropriate for children.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+ 
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley


  1. Enjoyed your review. I look forward to reading this book. Got my library to order it because I thought it an important edition to their collection.

  2. Books like this are a vital part of understanding the current refugee crisis, and help humanize and personalize the immigrant experience. These aren't statistics, they're real children, frightened and desperate, and looking for what we all want - safety and hope.


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