The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea

devil's highway_luisalbertourreaWe have all heard the horror stories of the border and the Border Patrol, of human beings desperate to escape their lives of suffering and cross into the land of the free. As Americans, we may hold negative opinions about such illegal immigrants, but the stories we hear from the media barely scratch the surface about the struggles these people must overcome to gain the opportunity of a better life.

Desperate to improve their own lives and their families’ lives, thousands of men unknowingly fall into the trap of corrupt Mexican lords, who promise to smuggle them out and provide them with a guide known as a “coyote” who would lead them to freedom. In May 2001, twenty-six men set out on a journey that would change their lives forever. Scrambling across the border with a few personal possessions, some food, and one jug of water each, the men reach an area in the Arizona desert known as the Devil’s Highway. Only twelve made it safely across.

The Devil’s Highway, written by Luis Alberto Urrea, details the path taken by these twenty-six men from their homes in Veracruz to what they call “the north.” Their enemies are countless: US Border Patrol, the Mexican government, rattlesnakes, the desert, hypothermia, fear, and most of all, the sun, a “110 degree nightmare” that dries out their bodies, sucks out all life, and literally fries their brains to the point of insanity.

I am personally not a fan of nonfiction, yet Urrea’s artful prose is captivating, drawing me in with the story of how only a dozen men survived and how fourteen others, labeled by the US media as the Yuma 14, did not. However, The Devil’s Highway is not just the telling of a fateful event; it is also Urrea’s way of shining a light on what he believes is a backward Mexican and US border policy, which does little to decrease the flow of immigrants. A strict border policy forces people to make the crossing in increasingly forbidden, dangerous areas, which contributes to the harsh conditions that kill those who dare to attempt it. While this book most likely will not influence immediate change in the border policy, it does bring attention to and educate the public about a serious political issue. I would highly recommend this book to those over the age of fourteen (as some descriptions can be graphic) who may be skeptical toward the nonfiction genre, as this book is highly informative and reads just like a story. Urrea certainly weaves first-person testimony, geographic descriptions and illustrations, cultural and economic analysis, and poetry into an award-winning masterpiece.

Kaylie W., 11th Grade

The Devil’s Highway is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Enrique’s Journey: The True Story of a Boy Determined to Reunite with His Mother by Sonia Nazario

enriquesjourney_sonianazarioTo be honest, this book had been sitting on my shelf for a while before I thought to read it. To me, it seemed interesting, but I wasn’t so sure. I was used to fast-paced, dystopian novels, not true accounts. So when I picked it up and saw a map on the first page, I was skeptical.

But of anything that I’ve read recently has a deep meaning, it’s this. This story follows Enrique, a young teen from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. When he was five years old, his mother, Lourdes, left him to go to the United States, in hopes of getting a job and helping the financial situation of her family. Her plan was to be gone for only a short time, an idea which was further fomented by pictures of rich cities in the United States. So when she arrived in the US, her plan did not go as she expected.

For young Enrique and his sister, Belky, it was hard to see their mother so far away. They could not imagine why she would want to leave them. Added to that was years of false promises of her return, and the children were not happy. Enrique was affected most of all. His life became difficult in the Honduras. He decided not to go to school anymore. He sniffed glue and was high more often than not. His family, and his girlfriend, worried about him.

At this point, Enrique cannot be stopped. He has decided to hitch-hike his way all the way to the United States, on top of trains and through the countryside. This is an extremely dangerous undertaking, because of the threat of gangs and migrant police and general disdain for migrants, not to mention that riding atop a moving train is not exactly the safest way to travel. This story follows Enrique as he makes not one but eight trips to try to get to the Mexican-American border, and the hardships and joys he experiences along the way.

It was truly eye-opening to read this story. In light of political comments about immigration in the United States, it was interesting to see the argument from the other side. I never knew it was this difficult for people to come to the US, where they aren’t even welcomed half the time. It was honestly depressing to see how cold and selfish people can be towards other people, especially after seeing how difficult life was for people in these situations. It certainly puts my experiences into perspective.

On a related note, the author of this account, Sonia Nazario, actually made this trip herself, so she could make the story more realistic, which shows a lot of dedication to her job. So not only am I in awe of Enrique’s courage, but also of Nazario’s selflessness and willingness to do anything in order to share such an important story.

– Leila S., 10th grade

Enrique’s Journey is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download from Overdrive