A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Author Alexandra Diaz, who herself immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba as a child, makes vividly personal the current events, from poverty to murderous gangs, driving hundreds of thousands of desperate Central Americans, many of them unaccompanied children, to do whatever it takes to get to the relative safety of the U.S. As protagonists Jaime and Ángela make their way from Guatemala northward through Mexico, readers will learn a lot about culture, regional history, geography, and local sights and sounds. Some of the dialog is in Spanish, usually translated in the text; there's also a large glossary of Spanish words used in the book. (The book is also available in a Spanish-language version.) In some scenes, regional language differences -- and the kids' ability to adapt to them -- play a crucial role. Also important: perfecting your language skills and accent by watching a lot of international TV.
Strong messages about courage, family, looking out for your loved ones, and persevering, whatever it takes. Small acts of kindness can make a life-changing difference for both giver and recipient. So can each person's particular skills and talents.
Positive Role Models
Jaime and Ángela are brave, determined, and resourceful as they navigate a dystopian world, trying to do the right thing and stay safe. Their strong, loving families, who sell everything and borrow money to fund the kids' desperate journey, never leave their hearts and minds. Even murdered Miguel appears to be helping from the hereafter. As the teens' journey unfolds, they meet many violent, corrupt, and greedy characters, but also many, often in dire straits themselves, who show great kindness.
Violence & Scariness
The story's events are set in motion when a gang murders Ángela's brother Miguel when he refuses to join them. As the teens soon find out, their road is full of people who will kill and rob you, but many of their fellow travelers are fleeing worse. Some characters die, others are badly beaten or injured. Danger is constant.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
In a scene where the teens are part of a group of people who strip down to their underwear to swim across a river, Jaime tells a man he catches ogling Ángela to "keep your eyes to yourself, pervert!" One of the reasons the cousins have to leave their village is that if she stays, she'll be forced to be the "girlfriend" of a gang leader. A young traveler disguises herself as a boy because the road's not a safe place for girls traveling alone. Two adult characters joke about one of them having a wife and a mistress.
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Pee and poop are part of the harsh landscape, where plumbing and other comforts are rare. A villainous character calls the refugees "pissants." Occasional "turd," "goddamn."
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Products & Purchases
Occasional mention of brand name for characterization or scene-setting, e.g. a gang member in a dirt-poor village brandishing a brand new iPhone and wearing new Nike shoes. Jaime keeps asking his brother in the U.S. if he's met Jennifer Lopez yet.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Cigarettes are a coveted item for the teens -- more as barter items than for smoking, though some young characters as well as adults smoke. Along the journey they encounter adults and kids intoxicated on liquor or glue, and try to avoid them. Gangs force some kids to carry drugs across the border; many are caught.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Only Road is the story of two teen cousins fleeing a violent gang in their poor Guatemalan village and making the perilous, expensive, illegal journey through Mexico to the United States. Courage, their own talents, the kindness of strangers, and above all the love of friends and family sustain them. But the landscape they traverse is as harrowing as anything dystopian fiction has on offer -- freight trains jammed with desperate people, kids and adults happy to rob and kill you, gangs and immigration officers who treat their victims brutally. Author Alexandra Diaz, who also left her home and loved ones in Cuba when she came to the U.S. as a child, affectingly conveys what it's like when your only chance of survival is to leave everyone you love behind and head into the unknown. There's a lot of harsh reality in this fact-based tale, but also lots of heart.
Is It Any Good?
As two teenage cousins take the perilous journey from Guatemala to the U.S., this harrowing, heartfelt tale brings to life the plight of thousands of young refugees and the dangers they face. Author Alexandra Diaz, herself a childhood immigrant from Cuba, vividly conveys what it feels like to leave all you've known and loved behind, probably forever, and to be on a dystopian journey with thousands of people, good and bad, in the same situation.
"Jaime felt as though he already knew too much. Friends at school talked; advertisements on television and on billboards warned of the horrors. In an illegal journey of four thousand kilometers, they were going to places more corrupt than his village, running from gangs more violent than the Alphas, going to a country where no one, except Tomás, wanted them there. Everywhere they'd go on this journey, they'd be unwelcome."
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