Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Border by Steve Schafer

As usual, Pato, 16, his mother and father always seem to arrive late for get togethers, and cousin Carmen's quinceañera is no different. On their way into the house to join the happy, noisy celebration, Pato notices a suspicious car parked nearby, noticeable because it is completely painted black, even the bumpers. He briefly debates with himself about saying something, after all, there are two men in the car carefully watching the house, but in the end, he decides it is probably nothing. Soon after arriving, Carmen's older brother, Arbo, Pato's cousin and best friend, head out to their favorite spot in the desert behind the house with Marcos, 17, a ace soccer player, and his sister Gladys, 15. But the celebratory noise is suddenly interrupted - not by fireworks, but by the sound of gunshots - lots of them.

Back at Arbo's house, they discover that everyone has been shot dead execution style. To make matters worse, Marcos kills one of the shooters, whose brother recognizes him and threatens to kill all four of them. Realizing they have to get away, even before they can process what has just happened, Pato remembers an older man that he and Arbo had helped once as part of a school project. Pato, Arbo, Marcos, and Gladys head out to Señor Ortiz's house on the outskirts of town.

Señor Ortiz agrees to let them stay for a while and even goes into town to see if he can hear any news about the shooting. Returning, he tells them that the shooting was done as a warning by members of a drug cartel called La Frontera who control every aspect of life in their Mexican town. The school photos of all four teens have been posted everywhere, offering a very big reward for them. The teens decide that the only thing they can do is try to cross the desert and slip over the border into the United States. But this is a trip that proves easier said than done.

The Border, though timely, is a difficult book to read. It isn't enough that these teens have just lost their families to gun violence, but they are also trying to survive on a hot, unrelenting desert which is a struggle for anyone, but even worse if you are completely unprepared the way Pato, Arbo, Marcos, and Gladys are.

The story is told completely from Pato's point of view, and I think this is a story that would have lent  itself better to multiple viewpoints. I would have like to know what is going on for the other three teens. But despite that, each person's personality comes across distinctly, and there is even some humor to be found, as well as an attraction between Pato and Gladys, giving the unbelievable horror of their stories more of a human face. 

With everything that has been going on in this country regarding the border and immigrants from Mexico, and Central America, this is a very relevant story. While this country builds walls to keep desperate people out, or puts them into cages, and deprives them of any shred of human dignity, it is easy to see why people are willing to risk everything to escape local violence and abuse. 

The Border is a book for older, mature teens, even though Pato, Arbo, and Gladys are only 15-years-old. It is a very realistic novel and there is, as I've said, violence and some mild sex, as well as profanity. But it is really an eye-opening experience for those who do decide to read it.

This book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley 

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