The Crossroads

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About The Book

“An incredibly heartfelt depiction of immigrants and refugees in a land full of uncertainty.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Diaz paints an insightful, realistic picture of a place that’s filled with opportunity but simultaneously rife with discrimination, which is especially important reading for today’s children.” —Booklist

“Fans of The Only Road will appreciate following Jaime and Ángela on the next phase of their lives, 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.

Reading Group Guide
A Reading Group Guide to

The Crossroads

By Alexandra Diaz

About the Book

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.

Discussion Questions

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?

Extension Activities

1. In her author’s note, Alexandra Diaz describes her own experience about starting school in the U.S. as a child. She writes, “One of the best ways for people to show their support for immigration is to read and be aware of what’s happening.” Just as Jaime spoke out on behalf of Don Vicente, you are not too young to speak out about immigration and help other kids like Jaime and Ángela. Read about the Special Immigrant Juvenile Visa at https://www.uscis.gov/green-card/sij and the DACA program (also known as the Dreamers Act) at https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/dream-act-daca-and-other-policies-designed-protect-dreamers. If you want to speak out about the importance of these programs, you can write to your representatives to express your opinion. Find out who your representatives are and contact them through the government’s website: https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials.

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.
About The Author
Owen Benson

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. 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.

Product Details
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books (September 2018)
  • Length: 336 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534414570
  • Grades: 3 - 7
  • Ages: 8 - 12
  • Lexile ® 820L ? The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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Raves and Reviews

A week after fleeing a dangerous gang in Guatemala and arriving in the U.S. to live with his brother, Tomás, Jaime and his cousin Ángela are starting a new school with a completely new language. While Ángela has no trouble fitting in, Jaime finds his only friends are a quiet boy named Sean, who sits with him on the bus, and Don, the old cowboy who tends to the ranch. As Jaime struggles to deal with prejudiced classmates and news of his abuela in danger back in Guatemala, he leans heavily on Don. But when the rancher is detained, Jaime relies on the help of Sean, who teaches him sign language, and works on expressing the thoughts he can’t quite say out loud though his art. Fans of Diaz’s The Only Road (2017) will appreciate seeing some familiar characters as well a new set of kind and complex characters. Diaz paints an insightful, realistic picture of a place that’s filled with opportunity but simultaneously rife with discrimination, which is especially important reading for today’s children. — Selenia Paz

– Booklist, June 1, 2018

Picking up a week after the grueling journey chronicled in The Only Road (2016), Diaz's profound sequel finds 12-year-old Jaime Rivera and his cousin Ángela adjusting to life in El Norte. Jaime doesn't know English too well, and his first days at school result in an unfortunate bathroom accident, mocking giggles from his classmates, and snide comments from the class bully, Diego. To Jaime's horror, Ángela seems to have changed overnight, making new friends with ease, switching to English almost exclusively, and acting aloof about their recent odyssey. Meanwhile, the specter of deportation looms endlessly, and terrible news from Guatemala involving Abuela and the Alphas erases any hope of returning to their village any time soon. Like its predecessor, this timely follow-up addresses the threats that immigrants and refugees face daily in El Norte, where "talk of a massive wall and deporting all of us" continues unabated. Diaz keeps the intimate third-person narration intact as she skillfully explores Jaime's new life in New Mexico. . . . An incredibly heartfelt depiction of immigrants and refugees in a land full of uncertainty.

– Kirkus

This sequel to The Only Road sees the internal border crossings of Jaime and his cousin Ángela as they start new schools and begin to recover from their arduous journey to the U.S. An isolated ranch where Jaime’s older brother works is the setting for the teens’ emotional roller coaster of guilt, loneliness, loss, and fear. Tensions peak when Jaime learns that the gang they fled retaliated by attacking their beloved Abuela, who eventually dies, and when the grandfatherly ranch manager, Don Vincente, is detained after 60 years in the U.S. Jaime succumbs to the pressure and punches a school bully, which does little to lessen his grief, the constant dread of being deported, and the embarrassment of being the new English-language learner bound by strict no-Spanish rules. As Jaime continues to draw in order to document and remember his past, he discovers this work is also helpful in building new friendships and providing evidence for Don Vincente’s deportation hearing. . . . Fans of The Only Road will appreciate following Jaime and Ángela on the next phase of their lives, while teachers and librarians may find the text useful to counter unsubstantiated myths about Central Americans fleeing to the U.S.

– School Library Journal

The problems in this book are pulled from contemporary news stories. Hoping to escape the gang violence of their home, desperate parents send their children alone on the dangerous journey to the United States. Cousins Jaime and Ángela have been sent from Guatemala to live with Jaime’s older brother, Tomás, who has been living illegally on a ranch in New Mexico for the past eight years. Twelve-year-old Jaime does not want to live in America, a place where he has no friends and cannot speak the native language. Ángela, who is 15 and speaks better English, has no problem assimilating into American high school life. Jaime finds a friend in the old ranch hand, Don Vicente, and his wife, the ranch cook, Doña Cici. Then they all get the worst kind of news: the gang from which they have fled has attacked and killed their grandmother in retribution. To add to their sadness, Don Vicente is picked up by immigration officials while riding to inspect bulls for the ranch owner. Jaime makes it his mission to save Don Vicente from deportation and has to work outside his comfort zone. The book has a satisfying ending without attempting to solve the major issues that do not have clear real-life solutions. The book has an extensive list of references for further research. Also included is a further reading list and a glossary of Spanish words used throughout the book. The author, a Cuban immigrant herself, knows firsthand the issues that children experience when coming to the United States as immigrants or refugees. Richard Fanning, Library Media Specialist, Spring Forest Middle School, Houston, Texas

Recommended

– School Library Connection, October 2018

Cousins Jaime and Ángela, who fled gang terror in Guatemala in The Only Road (BCCB 11/16), have been living in Jaime’s brother’s trailer on a New Mexico ranch for just a week, but Tomás is determined to act responsibly in loco parentis and enrolls them in school. Ángela makes friends quickly at her high school, joining the musical and hanging out with the drama kids, but Jaime isn’t doing as well. His math skills are up to speed, but his faltering English makes him the target of a middle-school bully. Vicente, a ranch manager who crossed into the United States decades ago, takes Jaime under his wing, teaching him to ride and helping him acclimate to his new surroundings. When a government sweep of undocumented workers snags Vicente, however, Jaime wonders whether, with all his obstacles, he’ll ever find a place to call his home. Diaz focalizes her novel through Jaime’s experience, which keeps legal explanations at a manageable level as the protagonist learns the perilous ropes of the immigration system. Though the author closes her story on a positive note, she pulls no punches in assessing that the cousins’—and Vicente’s—experiences are shaped by current enforcement guidelines, and her afterword and references paint a sobering picture of the opportunities offered to immigrants and asylum seekers at the U.S. border. A glossary of Spanish terms is also included.

– BCCB, September 2018

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