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Reviewed by María Dolores Águila
DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Mateo Garcia and his younger sister, Sophie, have been taught to fear one word for as long as they can remember: deportation. Over the past few years, however, the fear that their undocumented immigrant parents could be sent back to Mexico started to fade. Ma and Pa have been in the United States for so long, they have American-born children, and they’re hard workers and good neighbors. When Mateo returns from school one day to find that his parents have been taken by ICE, he realizes that his family’s worst nightmare has become a reality. With his parents’ fate and his own future hanging in the balance, Mateo must figure out who he is and what he is capable of, even as he’s forced to question what it means to be an American.
Daniel Aleman’s Indivisible is a remarkable story — both powerful in its explorations of immigration in America and deeply intimate in its portrait of a teen boy driven by his fierce, protective love for his parents and his sister.
MY TWO CENTS: I read this book in one sitting. I couldn’t put it down because I had to find out what was going to happen to Mateo and Sophie. Daniel Aleman does an amazing job of pulling the reader deeper and deeper into Mateo’s world with every turn of the page.
“Ma is always telling me how I feel too much.”
This is the opening line of the novel, and it does an excellent job of encapsulating who Mateo is and helps the reader understand Mateo’s point of view. When things are heavy, they drag him down. When things are good, he’s floating on air.
Within the first ten pages, the stakes of the story become apparent. Mateo’s working at his parent’s bodega, Adela’s Corner Store, stacking tortillas, when an ICE Agent comes and asks about his father. As the cashier informs the ICE Agent that Mateo’s father is not there, Mateo watches in horror, cycling through emotions – shock, fear, and ultimately numbness.
For a few days, the Garcia family is in limbo, constantly looking over their shoulder, while they wait to see what’s going to happen. When will they come back? And why is ICE looking for Mateo’s father anyway? Enough time passes and the family writes the incident off as a fluke, and Mateo goes back to focusing on his SAT and GPA so he can go to NYU and pursue his Broadway dreams.
The next day, he’s hit with the worst news possible: his parents were arrested by ICE while he was at school.
Mateo’s world is flipped upside down, and as a reader, I was devastated when he had to tell Sophie the news. Mateo finds himself as the head of household, having to take care of his parent’s bodega, their apartment, and his little sister. He turns inward, and keeps what happened to himself, not even telling his best friends Adam and Kimmie what has transpired.
It’s heart wrenching to read about the impacts on a family ripped apart by ICE, and readers will empathize with Mateo’s struggle to keep his emotions contained and act like nothing happened. When things can’t get any worse, we learn that CPS is looking for Mateo and Sophie. In a desperate bid to keep his sister with him, Mateo contacts his Uncle Jorge, who’s really a family friend, and asks to stay with him until his parents have their court hearing.
While Uncle Jorge is happy to have Mateo and Sophie stay at his apartment, his wife Amy, who just had a baby, is not thrilled. Pressure builds as they struggle to cohabitate and learn that his parents’ court hearing did not go in their favor. They have been deported and find themselves back in Mexico after building a life in the United States for the last twenty years.
It’s another blow. Mateo had been hoping against hope that things would go back to normal, but it’s clear now that things will never be the same. Sophie takes the news worse than Mateo does. She is crushed by the turn of events and falls into a deep depression.
Meanwhile, Mateo’s parents struggle to find jobs, housing, and a way to support themselves. They want the kids to stay in the United States and finish their schooling, but Sophie is desperate to be reunited with their parents. Mateo doesn’t know how he is supposed to continue to take care of the bodega, their apartment, and Sophie while pursuing his dreams now that he knows his parents are not coming back anytime soon.
This further complicates the situation with Uncle Jorge, where a temporary stay has turned indefinite, escalating the tension in the household and things begin to unravel.
Daniel slowly realizes that he cannot do it by himself, and he reluctantly opens up to his friends about what’s happened. To his surprise, they rally around him, supporting him in ways he never expected.
Mateo’s story ends on an unexpected, yet bittersweet note, tinged with sadness, but still full of hope.
“And no matter how hard they tried to separate us, how much the distance hurt, or how it nearly broke us, we are really, truly indivisible.”
Daniel Aleman’s Indivisible masterfully weaves a raw and heartfelt story that dares the reader to look away from the aftermath of what happens when ICE tears apart a family. Aleman challenges readers to examine their own biases when it comes to immigration and the myth of the “good immigrant”. At the core of this story, we discover how love allows perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds and propels us through it. In between these moments of deep despair, there is also levity, in the form of a sweet queer romance with someone who Mateo never expected and other tiny bits of joy with his best friends, that give the reader reprieve. The themes of this text — immigration, mixed status families, citizenship, family, love, hope, and friends — easily lead to complex discussions for book clubs and classrooms. Fans of We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sánchez, I’m Not You’re Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sánchez, and Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez will enjoy reading this book.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from his website): Daniel Aleman was born and raised in Mexico City. A graduate of McGill University, he is passionate about books, coffee, and dogs. After spending time in Montreal and the New York City area, he now lives in Toronto, where he is on a never-ending search for the best tacos in the city. He is the debut author of Indivisible, a young adult novel available now from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER: María Dolores Águila is a Chicana writer based in San Diego, California. She writes picture books, middle grade and young adult novels celebrating and exploring the nuances of Chicanx culture and identity. She’s also a moderator of Kidlit Latinx, a writing group dedicated to supporting and amplifying Latinx voices in Children’s Literature. She has a forthcoming picture book coming in 2023. She is represented by Lindsay Auld of Writers House Literary Agency. Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter.