Get a FREE ebook by joining our mailing list today! Plus, receive recommendations for your next Book Club read.
Reading Group Guide Borderless
By Jennifer De Leon About the Book
Maya loved her life in Guatemala: she was a student at a prestigious design school, worked hard on her passion for fashion (or “trashion”), hung out with her best friend, and developed a crush on a boy. But after witnessing gang violence in her neighborhood, Maya and her mother are forced to flee the city—and the country—they’ve known their whole lives in an attempt to find safety. They’ll have to cross the US border if they hope to survive, but even if they get that far, will they remain together?Discussion Questions
1. Take some time to jot down the way author Jennifer De Leon characterizes the protagonist, Maya. What details do we learn about her in the first few chapters? What are her thoughts and feelings, and what important choices does she make? How do those details serve as a counternarrative to stereotypes held about Central Americans in the United States?
2. Consider who Maya’s inner circle is. Who does she draw her strength from? Who does she support and how? What does this tell you about her?
3. Between chapters one and four, the rising action includes foreshadowing. (Merriam-Webster defines “foreshadow” as a verb meaning “to represent, indicate, or typify beforehand.”) Cite examples from those chapters where moments of tension and rising action also foreshadow events later in the book. How does this build the plot?
4. [Spoiler] Sebastian turns out to be an important character in Borderless
. What are his motivations? How does his personal story and Oscar’s story seem to humanize them even though they turn out to be the villains in the climax of the story?
5. What commentary on social class is the author exploring across various settings? What can be discussed about class at Maya’s school? In her neighborhood? In the United States?
6. The book’s epigraph is “Home” by Warsan Shire. Reread it and discuss what this book teaches us about reasons why people leave home. Movement across borders is common and is motivated by many causes. Discuss the reasons for people’s movement and migrations away from one home and to a new one in Borderless
. What makes Maya, and others who undertake this journey, feel border-less?
7. As De Leon explores the setting in Guatemala, what does the trip to San Marcos reveal about Indigenous presence and identity? How is San Marcos portrayed versus the capital where Maya lives?
8. By chapter eight we see a parallel developing: Lisbeth has secrets. Maya also has secrets. How are their secrets different? How are they similar? How are they playing a role in building the rising action and moving the plot forward?
9. One of the topics explored in this book through the characters is choices. Each character makes important choices that have short- and long-term consequences. Additionally, external influences seem to have a deep impact on those choices. Complete a chart where you track the choices made with their consequences and the impact they have on the characters’ lives.
10. In chapter thirty, after Maya reaches the border and is released from the detention center, in her reflection after observing her surroundings she thinks, “Welcome to America.” How would you describe what it’s like to walk into your city or town? Write a paragraph describing your city or neighborhood and conclude with the phrase, “Welcome to America.”
11. This book features violence and gang life. How does Jennifer De Leon add a new perspective to the conversation of these negative forces? What nuances does she include? What might her story be missing?
12. By the end of chapter twenty-seven, Maya, her mother, and Sebastian are traveling across the border. They are about enter the US without proper documentation. Are they justified in their choice? Are they right or wrong? What would you do in their case?
13. Chapter twenty-nine features a tragic scene as the migrants cross the Rio Grande. Take a moment to journal about this moment. Select one of the reflections below:
a. Have you ever been in a situation where you had to leave someone behind? How did that feel? What was your struggle?
b. The efforts migrants have to take to reach refuge in another country are sometimes deadly. What new ideas or revelations do you have after reading this chapter?
14. In chapter thirty, De Leon walks us through a detention center like the ones at the US border between Mexico and Texas. While Maya is there, she thinks, “No one deserved any of this.” How, in your opinion, should migrants and refugees be treated when they arrive at the border? How does this description of Maya’s experience support or contradict your thoughts?
15. What role does poverty play in the plot of the story? Who is suffering from poverty and how does it drive their choices, if at all?
16. While this book reveals hardships related to border crossing and migration, there are also many moments of joy, resilience, and love. Cite moments throughout the book where characters are joyful, where their strength is evident, and where love is at the center. Extension Activities
: The book explores various types of settings both geographically and socially. Create a chart where you visit all the spots in the story in order to analyze what happens in these places and who has access to them. Then discuss how this access is connected to gender and class.
: Identify the objects, people, and actions that represent larger ideas. For example, Betty-- Maya’s sewing machine-- represents her skills and abilities. However, it also represents struggle since she doesn’t have high-quality equipment for her work. Explore other symbols present throughout the story and ask: What do they represent? How do these symbols connect to larger social issues? How are these symbols helpful for understanding characterization?
3. Gang life and crime
is set in Guatemala, a country where communities are struggling with gang life and crime. Engage students in a research project where they learn more about how Guatemala came to develop this issue (and the role the US played in Guatemala’s Civil War), how US deportations contributed to violence, and how young men find themselves in these situations. Together, explore Guatemala’s struggle and how migration is sometimes the best solution for Guatemalans. Lastly, watch clips or interviews of migrants explaining their lives and choices in order to create space for the migrants to speak for themselves.
: Throughout the story, Maya’s talent of “trashion” is celebrated. Use this to explore sustainable fashion, using recycling for fashion, and how this connects to climate change. Invite students to create some of their own outfits via drawings or digital designs. Use videos and visual art to inspire the artistic ideas needed for this assignment. Collaborate with a local artist or the school’s art teacher to create a well-supported unit, especially for students who do not feel secure in their artistic skills.
Other books teachers can read to explore alongside Borderless:
-We Are Not from Here
by Jenny Torres Sanchez
- The Displaced,
edited by Viet Thanh Nguyen
- Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen
by Jose Antonio Vargas
- American Street
by Ibi Zoboi Lorena Germán is a Dominican American educator dedicated to antibias and anti-racist teaching. She’s been published by NCTE, ASCD, and EdWeek, and was featured in The New York Times. Her bestselling book Textured Teaching: A Framework for Culturally Sustaining Practices (2021) and The Anti Racist Teacher: Reading Instruction Workbook (2019) are both focused on strategies for the classroom bridging theory to practice. She’s a two-time nationally awarded teacher and is cofounder of #DisruptTexts and Multicultural Classroom, and currently chairs the National Council of Teachers of English’s Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English. This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.