Monday, May 8, 2017

Middle Grade Review: The Only Road, by Alexandra Diaz


The Only Road
Author: Alexandra Diaz
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016. 308 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
Jaime is sitting on his bed drawing when he hears a scream. Instantly, he knows: Miguel, his cousin and best friend, is dead.

Everyone in Jaime’s small town in Guatemala knows someone who has been killed by the Alphas, a powerful gang that’s known for violence and drug trafficking. Anyone who refuses to work for them is hurt or killed—like Miguel. With Miguel gone, Jaime fears that he is next. There’s only one choice: accompanied by his cousin Ángela, Jaime must flee his home to live with his older brother in New Mexico.

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.

My Review: 
The events that inspired this book, as suggested in the blurb, aren't necessarily the travels of one specific child, but of far, far too many children. These children are coming alone over long distances and at great risk, in hopes of finding a chance for life in the US. And therein lies both the strength and the weakness of the book. 

At times, I felt as though the author was working too hard to make clear the hardships and dangers of the route north. Clearly, she has the intention of engendering sympathy for the people who make the trip--and maybe of reminding comfortable American readers that people don't take that decision lightly. This led to some aspects of the story feeling a little contrived, as we are carefully shown each danger along the way. 

Those dangers are completely real, though, and in fact, the most unreal part of the story may be that Jaime and Ángela make it north safely, and with comparative ease. I am assuming that's no spoiler; this being a children's book we can expect that much. The author keeps the reality of the dangers at one very narrow remove, as the characters witness others along the way succumbing to thirst, violence, and la migra.  The question for me isn't if the book does a good job of conveying an important message: it does. The only remaining question is if it is an engaging read, and I found it so, despite occasional bits that felt like the author was trying too hard to win our sympathy. Just so she knows: she got it. And she created a couple of characters that I definitely cared about and rooted for.

My Recommendation:
This is a good read for older children (there is enough violence and hints at the sexual violence faced by girls and women in some places that it's not suitable for young children). But maybe it's more important for adults to read it, in today's political climate. I'll recommend it especially for anyone who thinks that people make the decision lightly to come to the US without documentation.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Only Road out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  


  1. Maybe sometimes the only way adults hear things is through children's eyes - and literature.

    1. Yes, I think that often it's hard to get people to listen, but they may read a child's book--or be talked to by the child who read it.


We want to hear from you! Tell us your reactions, or whatever's on your mind.