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Review: Illegal by Bettina Restrepo

Illegal by Bettina Restrepo
Young Adult, Contemporary, Social Issues
Hardcover $16.99 (272 pages, KATHERINE TEGEN BOOKS)
Ebook $9.99

A promise.
A promise that we would be together on my fifteenth birthday . . .
Instead, Nora is on a desperate journey far away from home. When her father leaves their beloved Mexico in search of work, Nora stays behind. She fights to make sense of her loss while living in poverty—waiting for her father's return and a better day. When the letters and money stop coming, Nora decides that she and her mother must look for him in Texas. After a frightening experience crossing the border, the two are all alone in a strange place. Now, Nora must find the strength to survive while aching for small comforts: friends, a new school, and her precious quinceaÑera.

Author Site: www.bettinarestrepo.com

Controversial Subject, Mild Portrayal (3 stars)

Staying behind in the grapefruit orchards of Cedula, Mexico when her father left for America was painfully difficult for Nora. But times are tough and the money papa sends has helped the family hang on to the only thing they have left. But when her father's letters and money stop coming, Nora won't stay idle waiting for the family to lose their orchard. In spite of her youth, she pulls her mother into a plan to go to Texas in search of him. Braving through hiring a "coyote", a harrowing trip by truck and forced to lead her mother like a horse all the way Nora won't give up until they find her papa.

But the American dream isn't instantly granted to those who come seeking it. Houston is a big city filled with gangs, homelessness and finding her papa may take longer than Nora and her mother can afford. When you don't speak the language and your very presence breaks the law, how do you build a new life?

My personal feelings regarding illegal immigration aside I struggled with this story. I think Restrepo bit off more than she could chew as far as this very controversial topic is concerned. Everything came far too easily to Nora and her mother, even the "harrowing" border crossing was toned down to a very G-rated experience. Because this is a Young Adult novel intended for younger readers I do understand the need for not going into certain areas but at the same time I feel the author has done a disservice to the readers. Coming to America illegally is not this simple and the horror stories I have heard make this seem like a very sugar-coated fairy-tale version. I was disappointed that this wasn't more true to life.

All of that aside this was so well written! If the author had been writing another story I might have been able to give it a much higher rating. Restrepo has a great grasp of scene setting and characterization. The things Nora wants are so suited to a girl of her age it was easy to care for her and pray she would find her papa and that her family would have the happily-ever-after ending. Though I felt the social issues (ie. gangs) were badly watered down I do feel like the author did it for the right reasons, for the younger audience this book is intended for, I can't fault that.

Overall this is well written and not unenjoyable but if you're expecting the story to be frightening or sway political feelings it's simply not that solid. I think it would be very suitable for the younger end of the YA age group but won't appeal to adults who enjoy YA.

Other Reviews:
Bookworming in the 21st Century
Chick Loves Lit
One Book At A Time

Notes: Received ARC via publisher.

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