Right away I had some issues with the plausibility of this story. Mateo is young, very young. His grandmother sees him leave in the middle of the night and, rather than stop him from making the journey, she encourages him to go. I felt as if that weakened the overall plot of the novel with Mateo crossing the dangerous desert alone and an adult willingly allowing him to do so. If this book had been marketed as an urban fantasy or magical realism, I would have felt more comfortable suspending my belief in this regard.
I did enjoy how Patricia Reilly Giff mixed Mateo’s written account, combining it with his present narrative, for a very creative story. Again, I do feel that it might be confusing for readers with the magical vibe that this story ultimately gives off.
Mateo is a prime example of the hero’s journey as he struggles to cross the border and navigate a new country on his own. He is even accompanied by a young girl, Angel, who has street smarts enough for them both. Angel helps Mateo survive and Mateo helps Angel find a place she belongs. Their relationship was a perfect representation of grade school friendship in all its ups and downs, but it wasn’t until over halfway through this book that I was positive Angel was indeed a real girl and not a figment of Mateo’s imagination.
As a long-time fan of Giff’s writing, I know that she is not afraid to experiment with different stories and styles. It prepared me a little for this departure from her previous books. This story is a creative look at the Hero’s Journey and perfect for younger audiences who are beginning to explore differing cultures and writing styles.