Illegal by Bettina Restrepo (2011)

Nora’s father left their family in Cedula, Mexico when she was 12-years-old with a promise that they would all be together again for her quinceanera, her fifteenth birthday.  He hoped to earn enough money in Texas to save the family’s orchard.  But as the years go by, Papa’s communication and the money he had been sending becomes sparser and sparser.  When it ends altogether, Nora makes the brave decision to stowaway across the border with her mother to find her father.

America.  The land of opportunity.  It doesn’t look much different from the home she left.  With very little money and no idea where to look for Papa, Nora and her mother find a small, dirty apartment to rent and begin searching for jobs.  After pounding the pavement in the hot, sticky, Texas air for days, they fall upon some good luck and land jobs working for a friendly couple with small food stands. 

Nora begins to wonder if America might be the place where her secret dreams of education and friendship could come to life, but fear and anxiety about finding her father, money troubles, and being found out by the police threaten to overtake what little hope and faith she has left.

Illegal was a quick read, with short chapters and sparse writing.  It’s a raw story about the struggles that forced a family to risk their lives for a life that doesn’t seem a whole lot better.  Michael Cart called Illegal “an important novel that deserves a wide readership”.  While I don’t wholeheartedly agree, I do think this is a unique story that hasn’t been explored too often in middle grade/teen fiction.

This is an ARC slated for release in March 2011.

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