Rummanah Aasi
  When you don't have many to pay for your bills, a roof over your head, and your father who promised to return but has suddenly disappeared, who do you turn to? Faith, family, friends? How do you keep going when every opportunity is closed to you? What risks are you willing to take? As the title of Bettina Restrepo's debut novel suggests, Illegal, tells the story of contemporary illegal immigrants.

Description: Nora’s lives in a small Mexican town called Cedula. Her family's farm is not having luck in selling crops and are rapidly running out of money. In order to help his family, Nora's Papa immigrants and illegally works on a construction site. Papa promises Nora that he will send money back hope and return in time for her quinceañera, her 15th birthday party, but that was three years ago. When the letters and money stop coming, Nora and Mama leave family behind and set out to find him.

Review: Illegal is a heart wrenching story that never trivializes the harsh daily struggles for illegal immigrants in search of food, shelter, and community. The book begins with an emotional goodbye as we see Nora's Papa leaves for Texas in hopes of providing his family with a better life. Unlike most immigrant novels I've read, the decision to migrant from one country to another is a last resort. It becomes apparent that Nora's family has done everything they could to stick together in Cedula until they ran out of options.
  What struck me the most in this book is Nora's voice and her resilience to push forward when anyone in her shoes, including me, would sit and cry in defeat. Nora is simply a teen who girl would love to paint her nails and wear nice clothes, but instead she has to accept the reality that her family need's come first before her own. Unlike most of us, Nora is forced to become an adult and take charge. She takes charge of devising a plan to find her father, convinces her mother to cross the border and to find a job. Nothing is easy for Nora. She doesn't speak fluent English but only recognizes a few words. She fights off violence, including an attempted gang rape; makes friends (who also need help and a place to belong); and questions her faith in God.
 While sometimes the book can come across like a documentary as other character's back stories are involved, Nora's daily struggle maintains the book's tension mounting and heartbreak. Nothing but her family's heartbreak is constant yet their determination to have a better life is memorable and admirable. There are a few small acts of kindness sprinkled throughout the harrowing journey to prevent the book from being completely dark. Restrepo doesn't glorify the dangers of crossing the border. Nora’s immediate first-person and honest narrative will hook readers with its gritty specifics, genuine anger, confusion and sorrow. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are a few instances where there are attempted rapes in the book. Gang violence is also suggested but take place mostly off the page. Recommended to Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Crossing the Wire by Will Hobbs
1 Response
  1. Jenny Says:

    Wow, Nora sounds like such an amazing character. I love that she keeps moving forward when anyone else would have given up, I always find myself rooting for characters like that:) Beautiful review Rummanah!

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