“An incredibly heartfelt depiction of immigrants and refugees in a land full of uncertainty.” —Kirkus Reviews “Insightful, realistic picture...especially important reading for today’s children.” —Booklist “Fans of The Only Road will appreciate...while teachers and librarians may find the text useful to counter unsubstantiated myths about Central Americans fleeing to the US.” —School Library Journal
Jaime and Ángela discover what it means to be living as undocumented immigrants in the United States in this timely sequel to the Pura Belpré Honor Book The Only Road.
After crossing Mexico into the United States, Jaime Rivera thinks the worst is over. Starting a new school can’t be that bad. Except it is, and not just because he can barely speak English. While his cousin Ángela fits in quickly, with new friends and after-school activities, Jaime struggles with even the idea of calling this strange place “home.” His real home is with his parents, abuela, and the rest of the family; not here where cacti and cattle outnumber people, where he can no longer be himself—a boy from Guatemala.
When bad news arrives from his parents back home, feelings of helplessness and guilt gnaw at Jaime. Gang violence in Guatemala means he can’t return home, but he’s not sure if he wants to stay either. The US is not the great place everyone said it would be, especially if you’re sin papeles—undocumented—like Jaime. When things look bleak, hope arrives from unexpected places: a quiet boy on the bus, a music teacher, an old ranch hand. With his sketchbook always close by, Jaime uses his drawings to show what it means to be a true citizen.
Powerful and moving, this touching sequel to The Only Road explores overcoming homesickness, finding ways to connect despite a language barrier, and discovering what it means to start over in a new place that alternates between being wonderful and completely unwelcoming.
“Are you sure I have to go? There’s only six weeks and three days left of school anyway.” Jaime twisted the straps of his new backpack around his hand. “I can help you with your work, Tomás, I know I can.”
The large brown building seemed to have been dropped from space into a field of cacti and scattered bushes that the locals called trees. The glass gleamed from the windows and the stucco and brick walls still had that new, un-broken-in, graffiti-free look that made the whole building less welcoming. New in every way. But to Jaime Rivera, who was used to chipped cinder blocks and slatted windows that opened and closed with a hand crank, this school building looked completely alien.
Tomás put an arm around Jaime’s shoulders but kept driving down the two-lane highway toward the solitary building in the middle of the desert. On his other side, his cousin Ángela shifted the new backpack on her lap to reach for Jaime’s hand.
“I’m scared too,” she said just loud enough for Jaime to hear.
They’d talked about it all week. Tomás and Ángela. Mamá and Papá back in Guatemala. Even Abuela had her one-minute say in it. Everyone agreed, “The children need their school,” and “They should be grateful for this opportunity.” It’s not that Jaime didn’t want to go to school. It’s just that going in August would be better than going now, today, in the middle of April.
Today. Only a week after coming to live with his brother, Tomás. Only a week since he arrived in southern Nuevo México. A week since he and Ángela had crossed la frontera into los Estados Unidos.
Tomás parked the truck in a big parking lot near the glass front door. These people really liked their glass. “Alright. The sooner we do this, the sooner you’ll see everything’s going to be okay.”
Jaime didn’t believe him. He glanced at Ángela and then scooted out of the driver’s side door Tomás held open for him. With a second slamming door, Ángela got out too. At fifteen, she was going to a different school, one ten minutes away and in the middle of town. They’d driven past it yesterday when they’d gone grocery shopping. That school at least had character, with its old paint and holes in the fence. Not like this prison with its fence of pointed iron rods to keep kids trapped, as if there were anywhere to go from here.
They walked together, Jaime clinging to Ángela’s hand again and Tomás leading the way. Through the glass front doors they came to another set of glass doors, which were locked. You needed to be buzzed in or have a special pass to get through those doors. Definitely a prison.
All the paperwork had been filled out already, and there was nothing stopping the inevitable. Even the lady to escort him to his cell, a young woman with dyed maroon hair, was present.
She entered through the locked glass doors in ripped jeans and at least three shirts layered over each other in a punk-rocker sort of way. “Hi, I’m Ms. McAllister. Do you speak English?”
Jaime understood enough to shake his head no.
This “Meez Macálista” didn’t miss a beat. She switched to decent Spanish even though she was a gringa. “Don’t worry. The Spanish teacher is sick today but I can help you out. Say good-bye to your dad and—”
“Hermano,” Tomás corrected, and then continued in English as he held out a hand. “I’m his brother, Tom.”
At his side, Ángela gave Jaime a look out of the corner of her eye. Tomás liked to show off that he spoke near-perfect English, but they were still not used to him being “Tom.”
“Mucho gusto.” Meez Macálista shook his hand and continued in Spanish. “Let’s get him to class. You can pick him up at three o’clock outside the glass doors. Sixth graders don’t need to wait with a teacher.”
Ángela wrapped her arms around Jaime as best she could with his bag protruding from his back. The bones of her back stuck out more than they should, more than they used to.
“You’ll be okay,” she whispered in his ear with a sniff that held back tears. “I wish you could be with us to drop me off at my school.”
Jaime let his hands dig into her spine and wing bones. “I’ll be there to pick you up.”
Tomás hugged him too, and then he and Ángela left the office through the glass door.
Meez Macálista let him watch until the truck was completely gone before putting a hand on his shoulder. “Come. Mrs. Threadworth will be wondering where you are.”
She used a plastic card around her neck to open the locked glass door and walked down the vast hallway.
“Unfortunately, our school district doesn’t have much money,” the teacher continued talking in Spanish. “It’s probably too late in the year to get you a special class to help you learn English, but hopefully, it won’t be too hard for you.”
Nothing Jaime saw seemed to indicate they were a poor school district—they had plumbing and electricity after all. On the contrary, it was one of the most well-maintained buildings he’d ever been inside. It looked just as new as the outside, with shiny floors that would make you slip if you where only wearing socks, and walls without chips or dirt smudges. Next to each classroom was a large bulletin board with class projects on display—maps labeled with all the states of El Norte, essays in English written in the best handwriting possible, the kindergarteners showing off their capital and lowercase letters. When Meez Macálista stopped, they were in front of a door with pictures of science projects. Jaime gulped. He’d never been good at science.
Meez Macálista knocked on the door and then entered without waiting for permission.
Four rows of six desks were squeezed into the room, where all but one desk was filled. Twenty-three pairs of eyes stared at him like he was some kind of alien. He ran his hand through his new crew cut and felt the sharp spikes of too much hair gel.
“Come in.” The teacher gestured with her hand as he entered. Her voice was deep, and with just those two words, Jaime knew this was not a teacher to upset.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
A few of the twenty-three pairs of eyes blinked and continued to stare at him. Which was the way out? Two rights and a left and he’d be by the glass doors? He wasn’t sure. Just as he wasn’t sure whether the glass door was unlocked from the inside.
“He doesn’t speak English,” Meez Macálista volunteered, and then returned to Spanish. “Mrs. Threadworth asked what your name is.”
Great. Now the owners of the forty-six eyes thought he was stupid as well as alien. “Jaime Rivera.”
His teacher continued in English, “Where are you from?”
He shifted from one foot to the other. If he told the truth they might guess he didn’t have any papers. But if he lied, he’d never be able to convince them he spoke good enough English to be from here. Back home, in his regular school, he’d learned some English but he wasn’t like Tomás and Ángela. Languages didn’t come easily to him.
He understood more than he could speak and knew what Meesus had asked, just as he had the first question. He forced his mouth to answer. Just to prove to them all he wasn’t stupid. “Guatemala.”
“And how old are you?”
The panic rose more than ever. He was pretty sure he understood the question, it was the answering he wasn’t sure about.
As expected, all twenty-three mouths burst out laughing. Jaime could feel his face burning and wondered if he’d accidentally said a bad word.
The teacher said something that made them quiet down and then turned to Jaime, said something else, and pointed to the empty desk in the corner next to the window. He took the hint and squeezed his way to the desk. From the front of the room, Meez Macálista, his only Spanish ally, waved good-bye and left.
The teacher continued talking and writing things on the whiteboard. He didn’t even know what subject she was talking about. The eyes no longer stared at him but the kids also didn’t have books open that gave any indication of what was going on.
Jaime glanced from the clock (only 8:52) to the window. Right away he noticed it was just a pane of glass—there was no way to open it. Back home the school’s slatted windows were always open during the day to let in light and a breeze. How he wished for a breeze.
Outside on the ledge sat an interesting bug. Dark, six legs, and antennae. If he dared, he would pull out his sketchbook and draw the insect. Instead, he traced the outline on the desk with his finger. No, not six legs. Only five. One of them must have broken off.
He was just adding pretend leaves to his drawing when the teacher dropped a book on his desk that squashed the invisible bug.
The teacher must have said something along the lines of “read this” and then returned to the rest of the class. Jaime lifted the book but all he saw was an old metal desk. No bug drawing. And no more bug outside.
The book was one of those first word books for babies that had a picture of something and then the word underneath. Except reading in English wasn’t exactly the same as reading in Spanish. At least he already knew that “or-se” was really pronounced “horse” and “beerd” was really a “bird.” Still, he kept at it through 9:14 and 9:39, until disaster hit. He had to go. Bad.
“Meesus?” he asked while raising his hand.
“I go bat-rume?”
She waved in the direction of the board and said something he didn’t understand but sounded like “seen out,” which didn’t make any sense. Maybe it was her who hadn’t understood.
“Meesus? I go toh-ee-let?”
This time what she said sounded more like “sign out” but he still didn’t know what that meant. He crossed his legs. 9:56. Time to be more blunt.
The twenty-three mouths laughed and then the twenty-three pairs of eyes turned to sneak glances at him before laughing again.
“Please sign out.” And again she nodded toward the board.
He squeezed his legs tighter. Okay, “please” he understood, no problem. And “out” meant outside. But it was that “sign” word he couldn’t figure out, and the whole whiteboard pointing was a complete mystery. Maybe the outhouse was behind the whiteboard? But he remembered passing the bathrooms on the way to the classroom.
10:09. He couldn’t hold it any longer.
“Meesus!” He ran for the door without waiting for her response. But his movement relaxed his muscles and before he made it to the door, he felt wet warmth trailing down his legs.
After a dangerous and difficult journey, twelve-year-old Jaime Rivera and his cousin Ángela have finally made it to the United States, where they are living with Jaime’s older brother, Tomás, on a ranch in New Mexico. Being in the United States means attending school there, but while Ángela seems to fit right in, Jaime struggles to navigate a world of teachers and students who are not always welcoming to a new student—especially one who does not speak English yet. When the dangerous gang, the Alphas, attacks their grandmother in Guatemala, Jaime accepts he can’t go back, even though he wants nothing more than to return home to his family. Except it’s not safe. While there are immigration officers to fear, living in the U.S. is still safer than home. Thankfully, new friends and allies give Jaime and Ángela hope that love, friendship, family, and art will help them bridge the gap between the home they left and the home they are building.
1. Consider the book’s title. What is the literal meaning of crossroads? Why is this term often used symbolically, for instance, when we say someone is at a crossroad in life? What crossroads do the characters in this book encounter? Have you ever experienced crossroads in your own life?
2. Why do you think the Alphas attack Jaime and Ángela’s grandmother? What message are they trying to send? What do you think would happen to Jaime and Ángela if they returned to Guatemala?
3. In The Only Road, Jaime used art to express his thoughts, feelings, and memories. In this book, his journal takes on new significance as a tool he can use to communicate and connect with other people. Explain how Jaime’s art allows him to communicate even though his English is poor.
4. What challenges does Jaime face at his new school? Why do you think Ángela seems to have an easier time transitioning to school in the U.S.? What can you do to make it easier for a student who is new to your school?
5. Why do you think Diego bullies Jaime? Do you think his apology is sincere? Explain your answer.
6. Jaime and Ángela rarely talk about the dangerous journey they made when they left Guatemala. Why do you think they avoid talking about it, even with each other? Why doesn’t Jaime want to share his story with his classmates? How do you think his classmates would have reacted if he had told them more details about his dangerous and difficult journey?
7. Describe the character of Don Vicente. Why is he such an important figure in Jaime’s life?
8. Why is Don Vicente placed in a detention center? What is deportation? How do the immigration officials decide whom to deport?
9. What happened to Jaime and Angela’s friend Joaquin? How does Jaime find out about her?
10. In the U.S., Jaime makes a new friend, Sean, who is deaf. How do they communicate? Why is the desire to communicate so important to daily life? What might happen if you aren’t able to communicate with another person?
11. For most of the book Jaime is convinced that Ángela does not care what happened to Xavi. What does Ángela tell him to change his mind? Do you think Xavi is still alive? Explain why or why not.
12. Even though they can’t attend her funeral, explain how Jaime, Tomás, and Ángela find ways to say good-bye to their grandmother and celebrate her life.
13. Were you surprised to read that Jaime wants to go back to Guatemala after he made it to the U.S.? Although Jaime escaped the torment of the Alphas, do you think he is safe from other dangers in the U.S.? Explain your answer.
14. If you had to leave your home country, what things would you miss the most? What does Jaime miss the most about his home in Guatemala?
15. During a unit on immigration, Jaime’s teacher explains the difference between immigrants and refugees. Why does Jaime identify with the term refugee?
16. What does Mr. George do to try to help Don Vicente, Doña Cici, Tomás, Jaime, and Ángela stay in the United States? Why does he want to help them?
17. Jaime does not like the idea of being referred to as “an illegal.” Why would this term be objectionable? What does it suggest or imply? Why would the term undocumented be preferable?
18. Why does Jaime begin to doubt his parents’ love for him? What changes his mind?
19. Explain Jaime’s plan to help Don Vicente. Why do you think he succeeds?
20. Tomás tells Jaime that things have changed in the way the U.S. views immigrants. For example, there is talk of building a wall along the border between the U.S. and Mexico, and people who immigrated as children are now uncertain about whether or not they will be allowed to stay in the U.S. How would these changes affect the characters in this novel? For instance, what may have happened to Jaime and Ángela if there was a wall blocking their entrance into the United States?
2. Tomás explains that in the U.S., all children have a right to receive an education and that schools and churches are often considered sanctuary spaces. What does the word sanctuary mean to you? Today, there are several cities asserting their rights to become sanctuary cities. Research what it means to be a sanctuary city and whether your city is considered one. Why would sanctuary cities be important to people like Tomás, Jaime, Ángela, and Don Vicente?
3. Tomás explains why the immigration officials stopped his truck by telling Jaime and Ángela about “DWB: Driving While Brown.” What is racial profiling? Can you think of any stories you’ve seen or read in the news about someone being targeted because of the color of their skin? Have you ever had anyone assume something about you or your friends based on the way you look?
4. In her author’s note, Diaz encourages readers to be kind to immigrants in their community. She writes, “If there are immigrants in your community, make them feel welcome and get to know them as people, not just immigrants.” How can you make your school, church, or community more welcoming to immigrants? Brainstorm a list on the board with your classmates.
5. One of the issues Jaime faces is not being able to communicate or understand what others are saying. His friend, Sean, also has trouble being understood. What other languages do people speak in your school or community? Are there any deaf students like Sean in your school? Try learning some basic phrases to help you communicate in another language. There is a glossary in the back of The Crossroads with some of the Spanish phrases Jaime uses to help you get started.
6. Diaz writes, “We are a nation of immigrants.” Has someone in your family immigrated to the United States in the past? Why did they choose to immigrate? Join your classmates in sticking a pin over that country or countries on a world map. Then see how many countries your class has labeled, and discuss. What are some things your countries have in common? What are some differences?
7. After reading this book, what questions do you have about immigration? Diaz has included a list of references to help you learn more about the issues that children like Jaime face. Once you’ve researched your topic, share what you have learned with others and find ways to be a friend, ally, and advocate.
Guide prepared by Amy Jurskis, English Department Chair at Oxbridge Academy in Florida.
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.
Alexandra Diaz is the author of The Only Road, which was a Pura Belpré Honor Book, an ALA Notable Book, and the recipient of two starred reviews. She is also the author of Of All the Stupid Things, which was an ALA Rainbow List book and a New Mexico Book Award finalist, The Crossroads, and Santiago’s Road Home. Alexandra is the daughter of Cuban refugees and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but got her MA in writing for young people at Bath Spa University in England. A native Spanish speaker, Alexandra now teaches creative writing to adults and teens. Visit her online at Alexandra-Diaz.com.