Santiago’s Road Home

S. & S./Paula Wiseman Bks. May 2020. 336p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534446236.
Gr 5-7–Fleeing his abusive family, 12-year-old Santiago joins a young mother, María Dolores, and her daughter, Alegría, in an attempt to cross the border from Mexico into the United States. The three are near death from exhaustion and dehydration when border agents find and separate them. Santiago spends months in a youth detention facility where he is treated as a “criminal” and given no information about the mother and daughter, whom he has come to think of as his sisters. The prose is straightforward, presenting stark realities with no adornment. Covered with scars from abuse and often starving, Santiago approaches death’s door twice, and a teen at the detention center does die. The text includes many italicized Spanish words and phrases, and it acknowledges varying accents and vocabularies among Latin American countries. Back matter includes an afterword, a glossary, and lists of online resources and related books. Santiago is a sympathetic character, and readers get a vivid sense of his experiences and world view, which includes a distrust of police and most adults, as well as a great capacity for caretaking. The book ends with a happy reunion with María Dolores and Alegría, but their asylum cases are pending. They still don’t know if they will be allowed to stay in the U.S., and they will always live with the trauma of being separated.
VERDICT Vivid details and a sympathetic protagonist make this a harrowing but deeply illuminating portrayal of the struggles faced by families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

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