Efrén might not have many of the things other children enjoy. He has to share a mattress with his younger brother and sister, his clothes are definitely second-hand – but he does have a father and mother who love him – a mother who can make the best sopes ever – and he is able to find solace in the books he reads. Then one day his mother, his Amá disappears. She has been deported. Though Efrén is American born, his parents are Mexican and are in the States without documentation. Now Efrén must step up to help his Apá support the family. He is determined it is up to him to get his mother back; he will not just be a Muro boy, a child whose only contact with their parent is to stand at the “wall” separating the States from Mexico to reach through the fence to hold hands.
This is a welcome addition to any library shelf, opening as it does a door onto an experience that for many will have had the unreality of a newsflash – though some may, sadly, recognise a similar scenario. We see this world through the eyes of Efrén and Cisneros’ style reflects this. It is direct, very childlike in its attention to detail and description. In some respects it can seem a little worthy – almost didactic – however, it is also immediate and accessible. The reader shadows Efrén as he struggles to manage his siblings, as he copes with school and as he travels to the border in his attempt to help his mother. The realism of Efrén’s world is emphasised by the Spanish that is woven into the narrative (there is a helpful glossary at the end of the book should one want it) and the young reader is made aware of the politics of the situation when Efrén decides to stand for election as school president. Cisneros states that his aim is to present young readers with an honest reflection of the world we live in. In this he certainly succeeds. Young readers will find themselves engaged by the narrative to emerge more aware and able to empathise more readily when faced with news stories that might have been dismissed as unreal.