REVIEW: Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

Sometimes I pick up a book that’s been sitting on my TBR shelf for years and within a few pages, wonder why on earth I didn’t pick it up sooner. That happened with Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea.

In the depressed seaside town of Tres Camarones, Mexico, the men have long fled to the United States in search of work leaving the women to hold it together. Three of the women set off on a mission to bring seven Mexican men who can be policia or soldiers back to protect their town from banditos and to bring their town back to life. They take with them the delightful Tacho, the only man left in town.

Even in the current time of anti-immigration and talk of wall-building, the book strikes notes of rationality and human connections. Urrea does an excellent job of taking the reader on an illegal border crossing with the four main characters. The tone is jovial and adventure seeking with hope tossed in. They aren’t trying to live in the U.S. illegally, they simply want some of their own to come home. He sneaks in heavier themes that never feel that way. Tacho is gay and attracts unwanted attention bordering on abuse from some Mexican soldiers, their belongings are hi-jacked by a dishonest bus driver. We read about the ill-effects of NAFTA on the average Mexican, the filth and poverty of Tijuana in the midst of so many trying to cross over to perceived better opportunities, and the scourge that feeds off them, the lack of common sense among DHS border agents, the power of drug lords and their underground tunnels. The characters discuss their own illegal immigrants coming up from Central America and talk themselves of building a wall.

It’s all here, the deeper discussions for the reader to discern, but without judgment and without pressure. If you want an enjoyable light read, this story can be one. If you want something that makes you question your beliefs, this story can be that as well. Urrea has given his reader a wonderful gift. You decide how much you want unwrap.

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