Alexandra Diaz’s The Only Road is a powerful book – a story meant for our times. I picked it up to read knowing that I was in for an education in addition to a rich reading experience, that I would learn more about the treacherous journey children must often make on their own from Central America to the United States, and the violence within their communities which led them to take such risks.
Here’s the jacket copy:
Jaime is sitting on his bed drawing when he hears a scream. Instantly, he knows: Miguel, his cousin and best friend, is dead.
Everyone in Jaime’s small town in Guatemala knows someone who has been killed by the Alphas, a powerful gang that’s known for violence and drug trafficking. Anyone who refuses to work for them is hurt or killed—like Miguel. With Miguel gone, Jaime fears that he is next. There’s only one choice: accompanied by his cousin Ángela, Jaime must flee his home to live with his older brother in New Mexico.
Inspired by true events, The Only Road is an individual story of a boy who feels that leaving his home and risking everything is his only chance for a better life. It is a story of fear and bravery, love and loss, strangers becoming family, and one boy’s treacherous and life-changing journey.
Diaz does a magnificent job of being honest about the horrors the children witness and experience in a way middle grade readers can access and empathize with – events are intimated with just enough detail so that middle school readers can interpret them in a developmentally appropriate way.
Jaime’s village and the way in which the drug cartels have taken terrorized it were eye opening to read about; you can feel the hopeless desperation parents must experience when they realize that the only way their children can be safe is to endure a long journey north, often on their own and after great sums of money have been borrowed and paid to “guides” to get them through one check point after another. And the journey itself is so well described – an adventure story but one fraught with real danger, loss, and sacrifice.
This is an important book to read with our students at this particular moment in history, when anti-immigrant sentiment has been whipped up to such a degree in the course of the Presidential election, and so many seem to have lost all sense of compassion. Diaz includes a list of books to read for teachers and students, so that we can educate ourselves about the situation in Central America that drives families to take such extraordinary measures. This would be a great book to pair with nonfiction texts and carefully selected videos so that our students could get a better sense of what was transpiring south of the border to send these waves of children north, and what these journeys truly entailed.