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Review: Illegal (Bettina Restrepo)

Title: Illegal
Author: Bettina Restrepo
Genre: YA fiction
Pages: 251
Rating: 4 out of 5
Challenges: PoC
FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library
Summary (from the inside flap of the book): A promise that we would be together on my fifteenth birthday.... Instead Nora is on a desperate journey far away from home. When her father leaves their beloved Mexico in search of work, Nora stays behind. She fights to make sense of her loss while living in poverty--waiting for her father's return and a better day. When the letters and money stop coming, Nora decides that she and her mother must look for him in Texas. After a frightening experience crossing the border, the two are all alone in a strange place. Now, Nora must find the strength to survive while aching for small comforts: friends, a new school, and her precious quinceanera.

Review: The population of the school where I work is almost 50% Latino, mostly from Mexico, so I thought this would be a good book to read. I am not saying they all came illegally, but the story of being in a new country, having trouble with the language, school, and the culture is something many of them have had to deal with. The book started out a little slow for me, partly because the sentences are short so it felt a bit choppy.

However, once I had a chance to sit down and read this book for a couple hours in one sitting I got pulled into the story. Once Nora and her mother are in Houston and trying to make it all work the story picks up and is good.

One of the things I enjoyed about this book was the relationships that that author developed. Though we don't get a lot of detail, we see how reaching out to other, no matter how small the gesture, makes a huge difference in someone's day and life. Showing a homeless man he matters and is noticed, giving shoes to a child who has none, befriending someone who is new. All of these actions improved the lives of the characters in this book.

The author also did a good job of showing how Nora felt as someone who didn't speak much English, didn't know the American system, and had just arrived in this country. How does she get papers, how can she earn money, go to school, navigate the buses? All of these issues loom large for Nora and her mother and they don't always get it right either. Issues of the big city are also present: dealing with work, gangs, and racial tensions. After battling their way across the border illegally, Nora thought life would be easy, but it wasn't. Even though things aren't simple, good things to happen so that this isn't a depressing book.

Geography Connection

(photo credit for the photo of the mangoes)

Click to see my updated Google Map. This is my second book this year set in Texas. Actually, it starts out in Mexico, but the bulk of the book is Texas so I am going with that for location. I included the photo of the mangoes because Nora and her mother are smuggled across the US/Mexico border in a truck full of mangoes and she hates the smell of them for the entire book.

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