DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: When fifteen-year-old Miguel leaves his rancho deep in Mexico to migrate to California across la línea, the border, his life is about to begin. Or so he thinks.
MY TWO CENTS: “It’s been six years, eleven months and twelve days since I left to go north across la línea. It’s time for you to come.” So reads the note that Miguel receives from his father on his fifteenth birthday. During the long separation (his mother has also emigrated), Miguel, his grandmother, and sister, Elena, 13, eke out a meager existence in drought-stricken San Jacinto, Mexico. Surely life holds more than this! In the note, Papá instructs Miguel to pay a visit to Don Clemente, the wealthy patrón of the area. Years back, Papá rescued Don Clemente from a house fire. Now the old man repays that debt by funding Miguel’s flight to El Norte.
The arduous journey across la línea involves several modes of travel: by bus, riding the roof of a freight train, and crossing the desert on foot. Miguel encounters a wide array of obstacles en route, including the unwelcome surprise that Elena is along for the journey, too. Despite a series of setbacks, the siblings and a helpful new acquaintance named Javier press on toward their dream. At one point, bandits decimate their resources. At another, Mexican officials send them packing south— all the way to the Guatemalan border, in fact. Next, the trio sneaks a ride north by clambering on the roof of a freight train. The risks involved can’t be overstated. Nicknamed mata gente (people killer), such trains are responsible for dismemberments and deaths, not to mention exposure to cold, heat, and roving bands of ruthless gangs. I won’t even begin to list the perils they encounter in the next leg of the journey, the desert.
I respect the authoritative voice behind this novel. Ann Jaramillo is an ESL instructor with many years’ exposure to the true, and often harrowing, stories of border crossings by Mexicans and Central Americans. Her depiction of the mechanics involved is well informed. She describes life before and during the flight to the United States effectively, and highlights the poverty and bleak opportunities on the Mexican side with convincing detail, within age-appropriate limits.
Readers will encounter frequent terms and phrases in Spanish, not always translated, but whose meanings are usually discernible through context.
TEACHING TIPS: Teaching Books offers a detailed curriculum guide for La Línea.
Miguel and Elena’s immigrant journey reflects recent and ongoing sociopolitical conditions. More importantly, they add faces and human emotions to related current events. Students can use this novel as a jumping-off point for the investigation of true immigration stories. They can achieve better understanding of what motivates people to emigrate/immigrate by researching their own family histories, or by comparing the characters’ experiences with that of other Latino and non-Latino settlers of the Americas.
This is a good text for enhancing Spanish vocabulary. It can also be used to increase awareness of rural Mexican customs.
AUTHOR: Ann Jaramillo lives in Salinas, California. La Línea is her first novel. Ms. Jaramillo’s intimate knowledge of the Mexican-American immigrant journey comes through her work as an instructor of English as a Second Language, and her marriage of many years to Luis Jaramillo, a lawyer of Mexican-American heritage who has served migrant farmworkers for decades. In the author’s note, she explains that the inspiration for writing La Línea came from accounts of perilous crossings that her middle-grade students shared with her.