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.'"