Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Efrén Divided

Cisneros, Ernesto. Efrén Divided
March 31st 2020 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Efrén and his family work very hard, but still struggle to make ends meet. His father works several jobs, and his mother makes sure that Efrén and his twin siblings, Max and Mia, are always cleaned and pressed when she walks them to school before heading to work. Efrén considers his mother "Soperwoman" because she can put food on the table, help out teachers at the school, and make sure he behaves himself in addition to everything else. His best friend, David, seems a little luckier in life, although he lives with his grandmother. When school elections are announced, David thinks he will run for president for the prestige and the chance to change the cafeteria food. David always has the coolest clothes and latest gadgets thanks to his father, but his life isn't easy, either. Efrén agrees to help, although he suspects that classmate Jennifer would do a better job. He has something in common with Jennifer; their parents are in the country without documentation, and both children live in fear of ICE. When his mother is applying for a new job, she gets caught in a raid and deported. Efrén's father immediately starts to make plans to get her back to the United States, but it takes a lot of money, and it's not easy to get across the border even with a coyote. After an unsuccessful attempt, the father decides to take the money to Tijuana, and when Efrén volunteers to go, he reluctantly agrees. Efrén goes across the border by himself, and luckily runs into a sympathetic taxi driver, Lalo, who used to live in the US with his daughter, but was deported after some bad choices. Lalo helps Efrén as much as he can, which is good because there are a lot of dangers. Efrén eventually finds his mother, delivers the money, and returns to his anxious father. It is harder than ever to get by with his father working nonstop, his mother gone, and the kindergarten aged twins needs a lot of care. Will Efrén's mother be able to make it home? And will the treatment of immigrants in the US ever change?
Strengths: It is a delicate balance to portray the difficult realities of Efrén's life so that the story is hopeful to readers who might be in similar circumstances but sympathetic to readers who might not come to the book with positive thoughts about undocumented immigrants. (And unfortunately, there are readers like that, even in middle school.) Cisneros draws on his twenty plus years as a teacher to achieve this balance in a compelling story that will help those unfamiliar with Efrén's way of life understand it. The details about parents working long hours, children taking care of siblings, and students trying to keep up with school work while struggling with basic needs are well done, and the supporting characters reflect a variety of experiences, including a teacher who tries to help Efrén without being too intrusive. (Another delicate balance.) I'd love to see this book used as a core novel or as a reading group choice, along with Weeks and Varadarajan's Save Me a Seat and Gratz's Refugee.
Weaknesses: While Efrén's trip to Tijuana was absolutely fascinating, I have a bad feeling that if a child traveled there alone, there might not be a Lalo to keep him safe. Luckily, in Efrén's story, things work out better than they might in real life.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and know that this will be popular with students who enjoyed Yang's Front Desk, Saeed's Amal Unbound, Cruz' Everlasting Nora, and Venkatraman's The Bridge Home. It is also an important addition to a library collection that includes portrayals of a variety of cultural experiences.
Ms. Yingling

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