Don't have time to read this post? Check out the Quick and Dirty review of the book.
Sometimes, as I watch the nightly news or listen to stories on NPR, I find myself thinking about the "what-ifs."
What if my town just experienced catastrophic flooding?
What if political unrest caused me to flee my home?
What if my child suffered from that disease?
But even the most empathetic of us would be hard pressed to really understand the life-altering hardships that stem from such upheaval.
So in order to better understand, we read a story.
Books offer an intimate glimpse into the lives of those who experience the "other." While we (thank goodness!) will never experience something like, say Pearl Harbor, we can read accounts of what happened that day. Through the words on the page, we begin to understand the intricacies of different events, how people reacted, how they transformed ideas, culture, and our world.
To me, these are the most important kind of books - books that give us a broader sense of community and open our eyes to the reality of a world beyond the reaches of our own homes.
The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz is a book just like that.
The book, a work of fiction, follows two cousins - Jamie and Angela - as they escape Guatemala and the violent gang that hopes to recruit them.
Jamie and Angela make the dangerous journey through Central America to the border in Mexico. Along the way, they meet other immigrants, each with their own unique story: a woman running from an abusive husband, a mother with two young kids, a boy whose family was killed because of their political beliefs.
The cousins meet danger at every turn, quickly learning that not everyone has their best interests at heart. Wondering whether or not they will both make it to New Mexico to reunite with Jamie's brother will keep you on the edge of your seat.
I can't imagine reading a more thought-provoking story at this point in history. With so much vitriol surrounding the issue of immigration, I feel like this book offers an alternative view of who comes into our country and what drives them here.
Jamie and Angela are real, vulnerable characters. They make some serious mistakes along the way. They doubt themselves. But they also offer fresh, innocent eyes through which to see the immigration topic. Most interesting to me were their views on "gringos."
There were times during this book that I held my breath. There were times during this book when my heart broke for the reality behind the story.
Overall, Diaz made me want to learn more, be more welcoming, teach my own kids what it means to accept others and extend a hand of friendship in any way we can.
This book would make a fantastic read for kids in middle school on up. I think it would be particularly meaningful if you have students who have come to the United States as immigrants. For ESL teachers, I imagine this book (you would need to read it aloud) could open up a wealth of discussion from students and help them articulate their own experiences of leaving home.
Paired with non-fiction books, this novel would also make an excellent cross-discipline unit. Immigration by Ruth Bjorklund as well as Pushes and Pulls: Why Do People Migrate? by Robert Walker make for excellent partners to the novel. Teachers could also create a literature circle unit of study around the idea of immigration. Books like Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan, and Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai. The Nerdy Book Club also provides even more selection to choose from for various age groups.
I also offer a Reading Road Map for this novel at my Teachers Pay Teachers online store. This resource provides detailed comprehension questions designed to help readers move through the novel while practicing good strategies. It also includes vocabulary activities, projects, writing prompts, a quiz, and more. Click here to check it out.
THE QUICK AND DIRTY
Title: The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz
Reading Level: Grades 6-8+
Reader Level: Grade 7+
Highlights: Shows an unbiased, balanced view of immigration into the United States. Characters display loyalty to each other, compassion, honesty, and courage. The book is gritty but not overly violent, crass, or gory.
Be Aware: Corruption and danger are present throughout most of the book. Gangs threaten with violence, but their deeds are never described in gruesome detail. The crossing of the two main characters into the United States is illegal.