Book Review: Indivisible by Daniel Aleman

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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.

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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.

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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

Book Review: My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, illus by Zeke Peña

 

Review by Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: When Daisy Ramona zooms around her neighborhood with Papi on his motorcycle, she sees the people and places she’s always known: the tortillería!, Abuelita’s church!, Franky, the barking Labradoodle! She also sees a community that is changing around her. But as Daisy and her papi reach the homestretch, the purple, blue, and gold sky glowing behind them, she knows that some things, like the love from her papi and family, will never change. With vivid illustrations and text bursting with heart, My Papi Has a Motorcycle is a young girl’s love letter to her hardworking dad and to the feeling of home we always carry with us.

The book is also available in Spanish as Mi papi tiene una moto.

MY TWO CENTS: Through this book, Quintero writes a love letter to her father “who showed [her] different ways of experiencing home” and a love letter to Corona, California, “a city that will always be a part of [her]” (Author’s note). The book begins with Daisy reading a book as she waits for her father to come home and take her on a ride around the city on his motorcycle. A wonderful feast to the eyes on this first page is the intertextuality that illustrator Zeke Peña provides: the book Daisy is reading is Lowriders to the Center of the Earth (written by Cathy Camper and illustrated by Raul the Third). It is a small, yet delightful, nod for readers who are familiar with the book series.

As the duo sets off on their journey, they pass many sights that are staples of Daisy’s city. There’s her Abuela’s church, Joy’s Market – where Mami buys Daisy’s gummy bears –, Rocket Repair, and Don Rudy’s Raspados – Daisy’s favorite place for shaved ice, which seems to have closed down. This is a point of concern for Daisy, who notices how disappointed her father is and affirms that she will not be the only one who misses the place. It comes as a happy surprise for her, then, when at the end of her journey that evening Don Rudy comes by with shaved ice, now in a small and portable cart.

Not only does the reader go on a tour of these places that Daisy enjoys, but we also get a glimpse into her life, her family’s life, her neighborhood, and some of the important history about the city. Passing by the murals painted around, Daisy explains their importance: “We roar past murals that tell our history – of citrus groves and immigrants who worked them, and of the famous road race that took place on Grand Boulevard a hundred years ago.”

As they race their way through Grand Boulevard, Daisy imagines being part of the races, the crowd cheering her on. The way Quintero weaves some of the history with Daisy’s daily life and imagination is brilliant, as readers are able to see the city through her eyes – lovingly and full of admiration – and at the same time they learn some of its history, as Daisy learns it, too.

In her author’s note, Quintero explains how the story was inspired by her own childhood in Corona, California. Through her words and Peña’s illustrations, she wanted to honor the immigrant workers, like her grandfather, who did the majority of the hard labor that helped establish the city, and a lot of the U.S. She explains that while the murals [Zeke Peña] created were imagined, the history they depicted was real.” These details, such as the city holding the road race on what is now known as Grand Boulevard, or the fact that Corona was known as the “Lemon Capital of the World” because of all the citrus that was cultivated there, were all present in the journey Daisy takes the reader.

There is so much heart in this book! It is clear how much Daisy loves and admires her papi, whose voice – she says – touches everything, even when everything around them is noisy. It doesn’t matter what else is going on, her father is central in her life. She admires his work as a carpenter, a job that he has had since he first arrived to the country, showing the reader not only his hard work, but how much she appreciates him for spending this sacred time with her even when he comes home really tired.

The language is very literary and the descriptions are vivid. One of my favorite combinations of vivid descriptions in the text and detailed imagery in the illustrations comes from a spread where Daisy describes how she and her dad take off on the motorcycle. She says the shiny blue metal up the motorcycle glows in the sun, making the sky blue and purple and gold. This rich imagery is further enhanced by Peña’s mix of colors and his placement of the duo at the center of a pool of gold, as if they were riding right into the sun. Peña’s use of comics elements like speech bubbles or onomatopoeic graphics like “VROOOOOOOM” when the motorcycle is revving up are a perfect fit for Quintero’s words.

Daisy and her papi’s motorcycle ride around the city is more than just a ride; it is really her life. And no matter how far she goes from the city or how many changes it undergoes, it will always be a part of her. This really shows how important this place is for her and how much of her identity is tied to it. Quintero closes the narrative with Daisy enjoying her shaved ice, sitting with her papi. Lovingly, Daisy thinks about her town and “all the changes it’s been through,” and finds comfort in knowing that in her little house with her family “there are things that will always stay the same.” “Mañana we fly again,” her dad assures her.

TEACHING TIPS: This book makes for a wonderful read aloud for all ages. It would be a strong mentor text for writing, and teachers could focus on:

  • The use of vivid descriptions
  • The importance of setting(s) in a story
  • Characterization

In addition, the book’s detailed illustrations can be great for teaching or developing visual literacy, asking students to explore how the illustrations support the text.

For older readers, the questions Quintero poses in her author’s note can be used for teaching this book. Who are the people who build our cities and form our communities? Who are the people who get streets named after them, and who are the people who lay the asphalt? These could become the basis of individual or collective research projects for students to learn more about their communities.

IsabelQABOUT THE AUTHOR: (from the dust jacket) Isabel Quintero is the daughter of Mexican immigrants. She lives and writes in the Inland Empire of Southern California. Isabel is the author of Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, which received the Morris Award, the Ugly Cat & Pablo chapter book series, and was commissioned to write Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide, which was awarded the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. One of her favorite memories is riding on the back of her papi’s motorcycle as a little girl.

 

Zeke PenaABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: (from the dust jacket) Zeke Peña is a cartoonist and illustrator working on the United States/Mexico frontera in El Paso, Texas. He makes comics to remix history and reclaim stories using satire and humor; resistencia one cartoon at a time. Zeke studied Art History at the University of Texas Austin and is self-taught in digital illustration. The graphic biography he illustrated titled Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide received the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award.

 

 

 

headshotABOUT THE REVIEWER: Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez is an Assistant Professor of English (Children’s Literature) at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Her teaching and research are in the areas of children’s literature (particularly Latinx literature), girlhood studies, and children’s cultures. Her published work has focused on girlhood as represented in literature and Puerto Rican girls’ identity formation with Barbie dolls. She has presented research on Latinx children’s books at various conferences and has served on children’s book award committees such as the 2017 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and the 2018 Pura Belpré Award. Currently, she is part of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book’s “A Baker’s Dozen” committee.