Thursday, April 27, 2017

Border Child

Title:  Border Child
Author:  Michel Stone
Publication Information:  Nan A. Talese. 2017. 272 pages.
ISBN:  0385541643 / 978-0385541640

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Lilia thrashed and called out, uncertain if she's given voice to her cry or just dreamed the sound."

Favorite Quote:  "We can't shield our children from pain, even if we carry them in a sack against our breasts. Still the bee can sting, the thorn can prick."

As a parent, what would you do to make sure your child had the best life possible? What would you do to make sure your child was safe? Or rather, is there anything you would not do? This is the question at the heart of the immigrant story of Border Child by Michel Stone. In its setup, this book reminds me of Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran.

Héctor and Lilia are parents to Alejandra, Fernando, and a baby yet to be born. They have dreams for their children as does every parent anywhere. They wish for their children a better life than they have, and they are prepared to work hard to make that possible. Sadly, they come from a tiny village in the poverty stricken Oaxaca region of Mexico.

Héctor's dream of a better life leads them north to the United States of America. He crosses the border illegally, hoping to find honest work to provide for his family. Lilia follows, crossing separately. They find work and settle in the Carolinas and make a life. They learn. "People are people ... That's what I learned in el norte. Some good, some bad. Their birth country matters nothing where their hearts are concerned." Their illegal status is discovered, and they are deported. That is the immigrant story.  Note: This piece of Héctor and Lilia's life is the subject of Michel Stone's book The Iguana Tree. Prior to reading this book, I did not know that this book is a sequel. It makes no difference at all. This book is able to stand alone; the story is complete on its own.

The immigrant story sets the basis for the story of parenthood. At the time of their crossing to the north, Héctor and Lilia are parents only to four year old Alejandra. Héctor goes first. Lilia trust her life and her baby's life to a different coyote (a person in the business of helping people cross the border). The coyote separates Lilia from her child, promising her that they will meet again across the border. That never happens, and Alejandra disappears from others.

That grief of loss, the guilt of responsibility, and the hope that Alejandra is still out there somewhere drives this book. Some years later, Héctor and Lilia are back in their village with the second born Fernando and awaiting the birth of their third child. They get a possible lead on Alejandra's whereabouts, and Héctor is off on a quest. This quest leads him away from his family, into the "business" world of the city, and further into an impossible decision.

The ending to this book is a surprise. I did not see that coming. The writing beautifully draws me into Héctor and Lilia's world - their poverty, their struggle, the love for each other, their guilt over Alejandra's disappearance, and their absolute love for their children. All emotions that parents everywhere relate to. Best of all, the book leaves me thinking. What would I do? Faced with Héctor and Lilia's impossible decision, what would I do?

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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