The Distance Between Us ( Ages 10+ )
By : Reyna Grande
Publisher : Aladdin ( September 2016 )
Reyna Grande, the award winning novelist of "Across a Hundred Mountains" shares a glimpse into her agonizing childhood in Mexico and then as an undocumented child immigrant in America through this powerful memoir of hers; this is the young reader's edition of her original book ( A finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award). The story not only resonates with the issue of illegal immigration at points, It also reveals to the readers the evils of poverty first hand, and the amazing strengths of love and devotion to each other, as the three siblings journey together through an unbearably painful early childhood without the love and shelter of their parents.
As Reyna`s parents leave poverty-stricken Mexico to fulfill their American dream, the kids are left behind with their paternal grand parents. Not only do they miss their parents but they have to bear the cruelty of their grand mother, The children are mistreated and used as domestic aides. More than anything else,they yearn for the return of their parents. When their mother returns after several years the children are hopeful for a better life. But their mother fails to provide them with the care they need. Instead she leaves them for another man. They continue to live their forlorn lives in deep poverty, living in a cardboard shack with no flooring and with little water and food.
Several years later, upon the return of their father, the fate of the three siblings change. He reluctantly agrees to take three of them to the USA, where he is an illegal immigrant. Together they take up the utterly dangerous journey of crossing the border, with a "Coyote" to navigate them. The kids are made to run across the border in the dead of the night, scampering through the bushes and stumbling over rocks. Reyna`s story made me wonder about many other kids who are left behind by their parents - not really orphans but orphaned in many ways.
The second half of the story is about their life in the USA. Reyna, now ten years old, happens to enjoy the minimum comforts of life that they have; living in a one-bedroom apartment with carpeted floors and real solid walls to protect them. She struggles with her English at the beginning, pretends to be someone else to get the health care, and has to endure her father's drinking problems and his beatings. The readers could clearly sense her struggle to understand her father, whom she loves so dearly. However this new world offers her the possibility to dream! And her father teaches them to dream big. Reyna, through determination and commitment eventually realizes all her dreams!
What Reyna revels through her memoir is actually universal with over ten billion children living in deep poverty, and many such families splitting up over the same reasons of having to find work in more prosperous countries. The overwhelming feeling of emptiness and the longing that she shares with the readers all through her story emphasizes the impact of this damage.
It is a story that screams of children's need for parental care and of the exploitation of their utter vulnerability & innocence. On the other hand, the author inspires the young readers with her courage and her consequent triumph.
Grande`s beautiful and simple narration, rich with many tidbits and profound passages, sprawls across the pages and captures the reader. She would make us weep and hold our breath at times but satisfies the readers in the end.
Now I cannot wait until I get the adult version and my oldest reads this edition. I would like to to ask him, "What do you think would have happened to three of them if they didn't get to cross the border?" At a time when the hope for a border-less world for the innocent is growing further away, this book becomes a must read!