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Release Date
July 18, 2023
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As long as he remembers to stay smart and keep his eyes open, Mateo knows that he can survive the trek across the Sonoran Desert that will take him from Mexico to the United States. That is until he’s caught by the Border Patrol only moments after sneaking across the fence in the dead of night.

Escaping their clutches comes at a price and, lost in the desert without a guide or water, Mateo is ill-prepared for the unforgiving heat that is sure to arrive come sunrise. With the odds stacked against him, his one chance at survival may be putting his trust in something, or rather someone, that he isn’t even sure exists.

If you’d asked him if ghosts were real before he found himself face-to-face with one, Mateo wouldn’t have even considered it. But now, confronted with the nearly undeniable presence of Guillermo, he’s having second thoughts. Having spent his afterlife guiding migrants to safety, Guillermo knows things about the Sonoran Desert far beyond what could be explained by a mere hallucination. But even as Mateo forms an uneasy partnership with Guillermo, survival is still uncertain.

The Sonoran Desert, with its hostile temperatures and inhabitants, is teeming with danger as the Border Patrol and rogue militias prowl its deadly terrain. As his journey stretches on, Mateo will have to decide exactly what and who he’s willing to sacrifice to find home.

Editor review

1 review
Graphic Novel Depiction of a Difficult Border Crossing
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Mateo lives with his parents in Guadalajara, Mexico, but his family has decided that he will travel over the border to live with his grandmother in Phoenix in order to attend high school there. His parents caution him to be careful, provide him with a well stocked back pack and instructions, and arrange for him to travel with a man named Juan Xavier over the dessert. Juan is overly cautious about when they can leave, since he feels the border patrol has been too active, but Mateo is anxious to get to the US, so heads out without the group. Sure enough, the border patrol chases him, and he loses his backpack that had a map in it. When a ghost, named Guillermo, appears to him, he thinks he is hallucinating. He's in a bad way, but the ghost wants to help. Seventy years ago, Guillermo also tried to get across the border, but died. Ever since, he's stayed in the desert, trying to help other immigrants get to safety. Mateo doesn't trust his help, either, and when he arrives at a water aid station only to find it vandalized, he passes out. Luckily, he is found by Darcie, a nurse who lives on the Tohono O'odham land and helps people in trouble in the desert. Mateo recuperates and sets out again with a backpack Darcie provides. This time, he listens to Guillermo. Guillermo had been a bracero, who came to the US with his father to pick crops when men were off serving in WWII and farmers needed help. He met and fell in love with Felipe, but was deported back to Mexico when the war was over. He died trying to get back to Felipe. There are plenty of challenges in the desert, including a jaguar who seems to have a strange connection to Mateo and doesn't kill him. We learn more about Mateo's circumstances as well. Mateo tries to give Guillermo the last rites at the site of his death, thinking this might help his spirit move on, but it doesn't. This is a good thing, because Mateo is found by the border guards, who are also menacing a family. Will Mateo be able to help them, put Guillermo's spirit to rest, and get to Phoenix in time for school?

Good Points
This was an interesting look at the problems that immigrants from Mexico have long had in getting to the US. I did not know about braceros, so Guillermo's story was fascinating. I love the contrast between Guillermo, with his collared shirt tucked into belted pants, and his hat, and Mateo with his hoodie! There is a lot of good information about the kind of horrible treatment that the border control and self styled vigilantes mete out to immigrants who are trying to get to the US to improve their lives.

The artwork is engaging, and the panels are very atmospheric, making the desert seem very vivid. Guillermo's portrayal as a vague outline is well done, and I enjoyed Mateo's initial confusion. Not to spoil too much, but there is a happy ending for the helpful ghost!

There is a lot of danger and death; this is listed as a Young Adult title. I think it would be fine for older middle school students who have some background knowledge about the problems with immigrating from Mexico, but elementary students would need some support when reading this.

This is aptly blurbed by David Bowles, who wrote They Call Me Güero and They Call Her Fregona, and offers another look at immigration similar to Cisneros' Efrén Divided, Salazar's Land of the Cranes, Giff's Until I Find Julian and Diaz's Santiago's Road Home. For more information about the jaguar mentioned in the book, pick up Collard's 2023 Border Crossings.
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