MTYT: Efrén Divided

Mary Fahrenbruck and Violet Henderson, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM

In the second MTYT installment for April 2021, Mary Fahrenbruck and Violet Henderson provide their take on Efrén Divided written by Ernesto Cisneros. The middle school novel was the 2021 winner of the Pura Belpré Award.

MARY: A phone call from Amá confirms Efrén’s worst fears, that she has been detained by ICE and will soon be deported to Tijuana, Mexico. Efrén’s life is turned upside down as he tries to take care of his siblings – 5-year-old twins Max and Mia, keep up with his school work and help his Apá bring Amá home. Cisneros’ story about 12-year-old Efrén may be a work of fiction, but portions of the story appear all too real.

VIOLET: Efrén Divided is another timely book that provides a broader lens into the ripple effect when families are torn apart. Up until Efrén’s mother was deported due to an ICE raid at her job, Efrén’s life as a middle school student was going well. He worked hard, earned good grades, and had positive relationships with friends and teachers. With his Amá gone, whom he thought of as Superwoman, Efrén’s school life and home life are turned upside down. Furthermore, Efrén is afraid to confide in anyone for help because, while he was born in the United States, his parents are undocumented. This story illuminates so many critical issues and the struggles families who are separated face. Still, it also reveals how communities pull together and highlights families’ strength and resiliency to remain a family despite being separated by the border.

MARY: The subtle nuances Cisneros included in the narrative add depth to this story. A one room apartment, layered curtains pulled closed during the day, Amá’s stash of laundry money in a plastic baggie all convey the sacrifices families endure so that they can live a safe life in the U.S. Readers learn that Apá was once a lieutenant in the police force and most likely immigrated to escape the life-threatening dangers that come with taking down drug traffickers in Mexico. In one scene, Apá apologizes to Efrén for not providing him and his siblings with a nice house where he could have his own room. Efrén tells Apá he doesn’t care about his own room. He just wants Amá to come home.

I think while Efrén Divided sheds light on the struggles that undocumented students and families face each day, the novel also conveys hope through the storyline of Efrén running for Student Body President. Efrén wants to become president so that he can bring about change. In this sense, Efrén represents the change young people can bring about in our communities, states, countries and the world. The novel leaves me feeling hopeful.

VIOLET: Right, Mary, and such a great way to sum up the book; Hope. There is a sense of hope at the end, which is crucial. To discover more about what Mary and I are discussing here, we encourage WOW readers to pick up Efrén Divided soon. By providing our take, we invite readers to share their own take about the ways this award-winning novel affected them.

Title: Efrén Divided
Author: Ernesto Cisneros
ISBN: 9780062881700
Publisher: HarperCollins
PubDate: March 31, 2020

Throughout April 2021, Mary Fahrenbruck and Violet Henderson discuss 2021 Pura Belpré award winners and honor books. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!

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