Efrén Divided

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Efrén Divided Book Poster Image
Boy deals with mom's deportation in harsh but hopeful tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Besides offering vivid first-person perspective on experience of undocumented immigrants and their families, Efrén Divided (being set in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood) includes lots of dialogue and terminology in Spanish, with extensive glossary at the end. Efrén reads a lot, and The House on Mango Street plays a role. So does The Sneetches. References to actual neighborhoods in Santa Ana, California.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of hard work, family, friendship, empathy, community. Reference to Mexican proverb "Nos quisieron enterrar, pero no sabian que éramos semillas (They tried to bury us, but they didn't know we were seeds)." Some sneering at people who care about animal welfare.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Efrén is carrying a heavy load for a seventh grader, even before his mom gets deported. For most of story he's not only his siblings' main caregiver, he also works hard, does well at school. His best friend, David, the only White kid in the neighborhood, has a big nose, loves flashy clothes, is sometimes foolish and full of himself but proves a more true and loyal friend than Efrén in a bad moment gives him credit for. He lives with his grandmother because his father abandoned him and his mom has a drinking problem. Efrén's parents fled a desperate situation in Mexico, entered the U.S. illegally, and live in constant fear as they work hard and try to keep their U.S.-born kids safe, living in a studio apartment in an iffy neighborhood. Despite this, they teach their kids good values. Efrén points out that while most of the kids in the neighborhood hijack internet using stolen codes on the neighbors' Wi-Fi, his mom has always insisted they pay for their internet account. Kind teachers and administrators at school provide stability, support when things are at their worst.

Violence

Constant undercurrent of fear: People who lack status to be in U.S. legally live looking over their shoulders, all the more intense when they have U.S.-born kids who stand to lose their parents. In that climate, plenty of others are perfectly willing to rob them, leave them to die, or worse. In perilous trip to bring money to his deported mom, a tween is pursued by a scary mob of would-be robbers before a newfound friend saves him.

Sex
Language

Racist labels directed against some kids. The White kid in the Latinx neighborhood is called the White Parakeet. Efrén's student body president campaign signs are defaced by changing "president" to "nonresident." Occasional butt references.

Consumerism

Mention of many common brands, including Cheetos, Cheerios, Maruchan ramen, Tapatío hot sauce, and McDonald's.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A kid lives with his grandmother because his mother has a drinking problem, though she's trying to do better.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Efrén Divided is the first novel by Ernesto Cisneros, who grew up in the Southern California neighborhood where most of the story takes place. It involves a loving, hardworking, lower-income family who live in a single studio apartment; it's all they can afford since the parents of the U.S.-born kids are in the country without immigration papers, so low-paying, often unstable work is all they can get. When the mom gets deported, the family is thrown into disarray, which only gets worse as their first attempts to get her back fail, and seventh grader Efrén must shoulder more responsibility. The narrative perspective is very much that of a kid overwhelmed by a sense that his family and others are being treated badly, and effectively conveys what it might feel like. It finds immigration policy as ludicrous as the Sneetches' worries about belly stars in Dr. Seuss, a point that's often made throughout. Brown skin is lyrically celebrated. Efrén's best friend is the only White kid in the neighborhood and gets a lot of skin-tone-based mockery from the other kids. In one scene, Efrén, bringing money to his deported mom in Tijuana, is pursued by scary men in a creepy neighborhood before a newfound friend saves him. There's a lot of kindness, resourcefulness, courage, and community spirit in this story, and also a lot of grief and loss.

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What's the story?

As EFRÉN DIVIDED opens, seventh grader Efrén Nava lives happily with his parents and two younger siblings in a one-room apartment in Santa Ana, California. Lacking immigration papers, his parents can get only unsteady, low-paying work, but they've made a warm, loving home for their kids, working hard and setting a good example (for example, his mom refuses to let the kids steal internet from the neighbors' Wi-Fi and insists on paying for their own account). Then his mom gets caught up in an ICE raid and sent back to Mexico. As his father desperately tries to get her back, Efrén, who's always been a good student and worked hard himself, takes on most of the responsibility for his siblings, and starts to feel crushed by grief and anger at the unfairness of it. Making matters worse, his best friend, David -- the only White kid in the neighborhood and dubbed the White Parakeet for his big nose and flashy dress -- is determined to run for student body president at their middle school, which Efrén privately thinks is a really bad idea, especially when David expects him to be campaign manager.

Is it any good?

Ernesto Cisneros' middle-grade debut captures the turbulence, desperation, and determination of a U.S.-born kid whose lower-income but happy family is torn apart by an ICE raid. The title character in Efrén Divided faces harrowing challenges in trying to get his mom back, caring for his younger siblings, and coping with a typical array of middle school issues in a community where his new reality is all too typical. And while, as a seventh grader, he still sees the world with ferocious simplicity, the narrative brings a bit more complexity, depth, and nuance, as here where Efrén is returning to the United States after a brief visit to his mom:

"When his turn came, Efrén nervously handed his paperwork to the mustachioed officer.

"'Reason for visiting?' the man said in a slight Mexican accent.

"Efrén understood the Latino man was simply doing his job, but that didn't stop him from judging his choice of job. 'To visit my mother,' he said, looking up and giving the man a hostile look. 'She got deported.'

"The officer put the documents away and paused, as if to find just the right words. 'Go ahead,' he said while handing everything back to Efrén.

"Efrén reached over, but the officer gripped the forms and wouldn't let go. 'These forms,' he said, leaning forward and whispering, 'represent a giant sacrifice from your parents. A true gift. Don't let it go to waste. ¿Entiendes?'

"The words caught Efrén off guard, but he understood exactly what the man meant. 'Yes. Completely.'"

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about kids who are undocumented or who have undocumented parents, as many of the characters in Efrén Divided do. How does that status affect day-to-day life?

  • If your friend's family is having trouble (as Efrén's is here), how do you decide when to respect their privacy and when to insist on helping?

  • Have you ever thought of running for a student body office at your school? How hard would it be? Have you ever supported a candidate you thought would do a great job?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love Latinx books and stories about immigration

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