The clear voice of Manuel narrates his powerful story of how, as a 12-year-old, he left his family in Oaxaca, Mexico to join his older brother, Toño. In Beast Rider by Tony Johnston and Maria Elena Fontanot de Rhoads, Toño has gone North to Los Angeles on the freight trains know as the Beast. “The Beast is a network of freight trains that move from southern Mexico to the U.S. border. La Bestia is a deadly way to travel. Getting on and staying on are hard in themselves. Sometimes a rider goes to sleep and falls from the train, to be maimed or killed. … Gangs swarm the tops of train cars looking for victims” (from the Authors’ Note).
Manuel dearly loves Toño. That love sustains him on the perilous journey that takes over three years because of the injuries and hardships he experiences. Along the way, he is cared for by sainted figures, is robbed and is gravely injured when a gang attacks him. “I am broken but unbroken. Bones si, spirit no.” He is tenderly cared for by “Serafina and the many good souls of a dusty village….”
After Manuel heals, he finally makes it to the border, again riding atop the Beast. The journey continues across the Rio Grande with the help of a coyote that his brother pays. In L.A., Manuel lives with Toño as he struggles to find a place for himself and to recover from the trauma of his journey. “Here in this Los Angeles, impossibly enormous place, I am an island.” However, a new relationship opens to Manuel. He and a solemn neighbor, Mr. James Ito, begin to share stories. “Like tears held in for a very long time, out the words come. Pouring pouring. Mine is an ugly tale, apart from the few saints who float in and out.” That telling is healing when he realizes “how much goodness has been woven into [his] story.” Manuel’s story has many layers, each one enriches the understanding of the reader.
Many Spanish-language words enrich the story. Don’t miss the extensive Glossary at the end. Also, the informative Authors’ Note gives important information. Johnston, who lived in Mexico for fifteen years, has a number of other books that enrich and inform the reader’s understanding of the Mexican culture. Don’t miss: Angel City, Day of the Dead, P is for Piñata: A Mexico Alphabet, My Mexico, My Abuelita and the Tale of Rabbit and Coyote. The co-author, de Rhoads, is a native of Mexico.
These other titles will enrich the reader’s understanding of the journey taken by so many people from Mexico and Central America: Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote by Duncan Tonatiuh, and The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz. Finally, Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario who won the Pulitzer Prize for her Los Angeles Times newspaper series that is the basis of the book. -Recommended by Marilyn Carpenter, Professor Emeritus Eastern Washington University
Author: Tony Johnston and Maria Elena Fontanot de Rhoads
Publisher: Amulet Books
PubDate: March 19, 2019
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