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The Crossroads

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Crossroads Book Poster Image
Refugee kids find new life in nuanced, relatable sequel.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Besides many Spanish phrases and cultural references from food (including regional differences) to TV shows, The Crossroads offers lots of insight into the immigration issues of today from the complex perspectives of kids and adults caught up in them. A high school production of The Sound of Music is part of the story -- and a reminder that the Trapp family also were refugees. A character is deaf, so Jaime and others learn a bit of American Sign Language to talk with him. Along the way, Jaime learns to make contact with someone by leaving a comment on the person's YouTube page.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of family, friendship, kindness, empathy, and using your talents and skills to help your loved ones. Also hard work, adaptability, and learning to make the best of the situation you're in.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jaime and Ángela have a lot to deal with, having faced mortal danger and tragic loss over their long journey, respond very differently to the challenges of their new life, but both of them find positive ways to use their skills (e.g. Jaime's talent for drawing and Ángela's gift for learning languages) to make friends and help their loved ones. Not all the people they deal with are kind or helpful (a lazy ranch hand, a school bully, etc.), but many adults, including Jaime's older brother Tomás, "Meester George" who owns the ranch, and Don Vicente, the ranch hand, are a strong, supportive presence, showing both kindness and problem-solving skills.

Violence

Jaime and Ángela fled their home in Guatemala to escape a murderous drug gang in the previous book. Now, they learn that the gang has attacked their grandmother in revenge and she's died of her injuries. Meanwhile, they can't go home because the gang will kill them. Now in the U.S., Jaime faces some bullying at school. In one traumatic episode a bully destroys a boy's Jaime's sketchbook and pees all over it. They boy punches him and gets punched back. ICE seizes and imprisons a beloved ranch worker who's lived there for 60 years but never regularized his immigration status.

Sex

Hints of growing attraction and emerging romance between Tomás and one of the kids' teachers. In the past in Guatemala, an unmarried family member gets pregnant. In the present, Jaime disapproves of cousin Ángela's behavior with her new high school friends, which involves a lot of social smooching and lap-sitting. She points out that the guy she's doing this with is just a friend and, in fact, gay. A friend from their harrowing trip, a girl who passed as a boy for safety, reappears and raises some gender-identity issues.

Language

Occasional "pissed," "Gaawd," "what the hell," references to butts, pee, cow pies, etc. A character pees his pants because he doesn't understand what his teacher's saying when he asks to go to the bathroom.

Consumerism

Occasional mention of commercial brands like iPhone and makes of cars.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adult characters drink beer.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Crossroads is a sequel to Alexandra Diaz's The Only Road. This is a nuanced, complex story whose characters are sure to give readers something new to think about immigration. It follows undocumented kids Jaime (12) and Ángela (15), who've survived a perilous journey from Guatemala and joined his brother Tomás, who has a legal job as a ranch hand in New Mexico, as they settle in to their new lives. The violent drug gang they fled back home murders their grandmother, but life in El Norte isn't always great, either. Most kids and adults are kind, but a fight ensues after a bully destroys Jaime's sketch book and pees on it. A beloved member of the extended family gets caught up in an ICE sweep, and kids and adults struggle to help. The author's experience as the daughter of Cuban refugees lends an authentic urgency to scenes that reflect things that actually happened to her -- like peeing on herself in school because she didn't understand the teacher's instructions about signing out to go to the bathroom. The book includes a list of Spanish phrases and translations, as well as further resources and suggestions for further reading. A Spanish-language version is also available.

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What's the story?

As THE CROSSROADS opens, Guatemalan refugees Jaime and his cousin Ángela are settled in on the ranch in New Mexico where his brother Tomás works, but they still face a lot of uncertainty, from their undocumented status and gang violence against family members back home to regular things like adjusting to new schools. Ángela, whose English is good, is soon fitting right in and has loads of friends. Jaime struggles more, but his talent for art brings him a friend and later comes to save the day when another friend's in trouble. Meanwhile, kids and adults around them have struggles of their own, but also triumphs and moments of kindness and courage.

Is it any good?

Author Alexandra Diaz continues to deliver a complex, relatable, heartwarming story of two undocumented cousins fleeing gang violence back home and trying to settle into new lives. Many kind people offer help and support in The Crossroads, but there's lots to worry about, from immigration-status issues to a school bully who tells them that parents who love their kids don't send them away.

The struggle to stay safe, do the right thing, and protect your loved ones is real. Here, Jaime considers going back to Guatemala to deal with the gangsters who have killed his grandmother, and his older brother responds:

"'What do you plan to do, kill them? Do you really want to be responsible for someone's death? You'd be no better than they are.'

"'I—' but Tomás was right. Jaime couldn't become like them. That's what happened to Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars."

 

 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the refugees' struggles in The Crossroads. How do you think it would feel to have to leave your home and go somewhere else because you'll be killed if you stay home? What other stories do you know about characters in this situation, and how they cope?

  • Do you know any American Sign Language? Do you think it might be a handy way to talk with people whether they're deaf or not?

  • Do you like manga, like Jaime and Sean do here? Which ones are your favorites?

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