WOW Review: Reading Across Cultures

La Línea
Written by Ann Jaramillo
Roaring Brook Press, 2002, 125 pp, ISBN 13: 978-1-59643-14-7

I stared out at the land and kept my thoughts to myself. The only thing that mattered was making it across la línea. If the stories were true, the worst was yet to come. Once we crossed la lí­nea, everything would change. Everything (p. 84).

A realistic novel set in Mexico, La Línea addresses the controversial issue of illegal immigration into the United States and the reasons Mexican nationals may wish to cross the border. Fifteen year-old Miguel and his younger sister Elena must wait their turns to make the passage to California. Living in extreme poverty with his abuelita (grandmother), Miguel has waited years for his father to make enough money to pay for the journey. In the meantime, Miguel spends his time dreaming about the future and helping his grandmother to improve the ranchito where they live. Finally, the day comes when Miguel can leave San Jacinto, but his sister Elena must wait until there is more money to pay the coyote who guides “illegals” across the desert border to safety in California. Riding on the bus that will take him closer to the U.S. border, Miguel is aware of others who are also on the journey to the north, all of whom must keep their intentions secret. On a routine check stop by the Mexican federales, who attempt to deter illegal immigration from within Mexico, Miguel finds that his sister Elena has stolen away from San Jacinto in an attempt to join her brother on the journey north. Caught up in the intervention of the federales, the siblings are transported back into the interior of Mexico and robbed of the money they were to use for the coyote, the two must make the journey across the desert into California with a fellow traveler who is making his third attempt to get the U.S.

Unfolding with intensity and prose that flow, La Lí­nea is a middle grade novel that will have readers questioning not only the reasons for immigration, but the ways in which people are treated as they make attempts to create better lives for themselves. Miguel and Elena are both likable and relatable characters who allow young readers to make connections to their own dreams and the price they would be willing to pay for making those dreams come true. A novel about courage, the power of family, and the pain of separation, La Lí­nea brings to life the opportunity for readers to develop understanding, connection, compassion, and ultimately a more comprehensive understanding of those mata gente who make the attempt to cross the border. In terms of theme, other texts that could also be used on a unit about immigration could include, Ask Me No Questions (Budhos, 2006) and Grab Hands and Run (Temple, 1995). Readers interested in texts that also explore the plight of children in developing nations could also read I Am a Taxi (Ellis, 2006) and Iqbal (D’Adamo & Leonori, 2005).

Ann Jaramillo is a middle school ESL teacher in California who has worked with young people who have either experienced the same plight of Miguel and Elena, or who have had family members who crossed the U.S./Mexican border illegally. Wanting to find a story to which her students could relate, Jaramillo researched the experiences of Mexicans who have crossed the border, and this book is based on real events of one such account. Married to a Mexican American, Jaramillo has a rich appreciation for Mexican American families who have shown her how “there are many ways to be Mexican and American, culturally and linguistically” (p. 127). Jaramillo also includes a brief explanation of the events that have lead to the more dangerous attempts migrants from Mexico have needed to take to reach what they still believe is the land of opportunity.

Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH