Santiago's Road Home

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Santiago's Road Home Book Poster Image
Young refugees flee violence, form bonds in intense story.

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

Educational Value

As a detailed, inside look of the experience of undocumented refugees from Mexico and Central America seeking asylum in the U.S. and winding up in detention centers, Santiago's Road Home is a compelling (and harrowing) revelation. The story also includes lots of dialogue in sometimes-regional Spanish, whose meaning is made clear in context as well as in a detailed glossary of Spanish words and phrases.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of loyalty to your loved ones, family (including and especially the one you make for yourself), and kindness even when things look most hopeless.  Using good judgment, looking out for others, protecting the vulnerable.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Despite all the abuse he's endured, Santiago is kindhearted and looks out for others, especially those he comes to love; his talent for pitching in often makes a life-saving difference. On occasion he seems almost unbelievably chivalrous and unselfish, as when he's starving but refuses food a woman gives him because he sees she has a child and fears they don't have enough. Caught up in a situation beyond his control, he sometimes loses faith and feels abandoned, but retains a love for the companions who are now his family -- even if he's not sure he'll ever see them again. María Dolores is generous, kind, and brave, having left an abusive man to protect herself and her daughter and now taken Santiago under her wing. Some other adult characters are helpful and kind, while others are mean, uncaring, and even murderous.


The "coyote" María Dolores hires to get them across the border is a decent, careful person -- which gets him murdered by the local smuggling cartel, leaving the kids on their own in the desert. Along the way, the kids find a water bottle in the desert when they're dying of thirst -- empty due to the bullet holes somebody put there to keep people like them from getting water. From early childhood Santiago has been so badly beaten, burned, and otherwise harmed by his abusive grandmother and other relatives that he's got scars all over his body. María Dolores is also scarred by the beatings of the fiance she decided to flee for her own safety and her child's. Even when people are trying to be kind, which they aren't always, the detention centers are brutal places ripping families apart and leaving kids and teens feeling (and often actually being) abandoned; a boy dies in custody.


María Dolores is fleeing an abusive ex-fiance. A stranger who claims to be a U.S. citizen offers to marry her, for a fee.


A character says of an indecisive man, "Poor man wouldn't know where to take a dump if he came across two toilets side by side." Occasional "butt," "pee," references to  farts, urine-soaked floors and bedding, scene of taking a little kid to the bathroom in the detention center.


Occasional scene-setting product mentions, like characters drinking Coke.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adult characters smoke and offer cigarettes to Santiago, who refuses. In the past, Santiago lived fairly happily with an uncle who was a happy drunk, until the uncle accidentally set fire to the house.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Santiago's Road Home, by Alexandra Diaz (The Only Road), is the harrowing, heart-filled story of a 12-year-old Mexican kid who flees his violently abusive relatives and is befriended by a young single mom and her 5-year-old, who are trying to get across the U.S. border and join her sister, who's already made the trip. They're soon stranded in the desert when their coyote (the person who transports migrants) is murdered, and nearly die themselves before being torn apart and put in different detention centers, where it's not at all clear they'll ever see each other again or even survive the process. Santiago, María Dolores, and little Alegría are all relatable, appealing, honorable -- and traumatized by everything from domestic violence to opportunistic crooks to an uncaring system and the people caught up in it. Some crude bathroom language, fart humor, pee references. There are strong messages of love for your family (especially the one you made for yourself), kindness, courage, and doing the right thing even when you're being wronged. The story includes lots of dialogue and slang in Spanish, as well as a lengthy glossary; a Spanish-language version is due July 28, 2020.

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What's the story?

SANTIAGO'S ROAD HOME is long and hard, especially since he's never really had a home. He' been an orphan since his single mom's death when he was 5; now he's 12, and for all those years he's been beaten, bashed, burned, and shunted around rural Mexico by abusive, uncaring relatives. When the most recent ones kick him out and send him back to his sadistic grandmother, he flees instead, with no real plan. A young woman and her little girl share their food with him when he's starving, and tell him of their plan to go "al otro lado (to the other side, i.e. the U.S.)" to join family. A bond soon forms, but their troubles are only beginning.

Is it any good?

Alexandra Diaz paints a harrowing, heart-filled story of Mexican young people fleeing violence, the family bond they form, and how getting across the border is just the beginning of their troubles. Santiago's Road Home is long, complicated, and filled with danger, and the reader shares Santiago's conflicted emotions as he experiences the first kindness he's known since his mother died and  bonds with Maria Dolores and little Alegria, only to be torn from them by the immigration system. There's a lot of love in this story, and it has a lot to overcome.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about stories such as Santiago's Road Home that involve refugees, the situations they're fleeing, and their hopes for a better future. What do you know about things in history that caused people to flee their homes in large numbers -- and what's causing the same desperate situations today? What other stories do you know about these situations?

  • Do you know any kids who've been separated from their family members and now live with someone else? What do you think would be hardest about being in that situation?

  • Have you read Alexandra Diaz's previous books? How do you think Santiago's Road Home compares with them?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love Latinx stories and family tales

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