Saludos a todxs,
Our Vamos a Leer book group meets this evening to discuss the young adult novel, The Only Road, by Alexandra Diaz.
While we always want to take a moment to highlight the authors being read in our local meetings, Diaz has special significance for us because she’s right here in New Mexico with us as a resident of Santa Fe!
In describing herself, Diaz writes that all her life she has had “an overactive imagination [which] had her making up stories at an early age and led to getting an MA in Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University. The daughter of Cuban refugees, she is a native Spanish speaker who currently lives in Santa Fe, NM.”
Beyond that succinct summary, we can add that she is the author of several young adult novels which have been well received. Her most recent book, The Only Road, was designated as a Pura Belpré Honor Book and an Américas Award Winner in 2017. As the publisher writes, “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.” It some ways, it reads as an even younger version of Enrique’s Journey, although here we learn of Jaime and his sister, Ángela, as they come northward from Guatemala to escape the violence surrounding his family.
Here at Vamos a Leer, we found that Diaz had managed an interesting feat – she had taken the harrowing, traumatic experiences of youth migrants and somehow tempered their story for younger readers. In reviewing the book for Latinxs in Kid Lit, Cris Rodes highlights Diaz’s decision to write the text for young readers, noting that while its gritty attention to reality may make it difficult for younger readers, they should nonetheless be given the chance to appreciate this novel. The harsh details of the story are smoothed, Chris writes, “with familiar stylistic choices and tropes of children’s and middle-grade texts. From its large print and short chapters, to the straightforward, albeit lyrical language, this text remains easily accessible to young readers.”
According to an interview with KidLit441, Diaz acknowledges that the idea for the book came from her editor, writing that “A few years ago there was a huge wave of unaccompanied immigrant children arriving into the U.S. when previously it had been the adults who would immigrate and then send for their families later on. This wave was sparked in part by violent gangs taking over villages in Central America and forcing children into their gangs, or being killed. My editor knew that someone had to write these children’s story and I was asked to do it. As the daughter of Cuban refugees, immigration is something that I have grown up with and it close to my heart. Even though my parents’ experience was different than what is happening today, at the core the stories are the same—having to leave your home for a new place because it’s the only choice.”
It’s perhaps that last point which captures most accurately why the book drew us in – Diaz’s ability to speak to a sense of shared humanity. This is a book to balance out the apathetic or dismissive news headline, and instead draw out an empathetic understanding of youth migrants.
Image: Photo credit to Owen Benson. Reprinted via KidLit441.