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Eleven-year-old Maximiliano Cordoba—Max to his family and friends—lives with Papa and Buelo, his grandfather, “somewhere in the Americas.” His homeland, Santa Maria, borders a nation characterized by oppression and political unrest, whose citizens often flee through Santa Maria to safer havens.

Max longs to make his country’s famous fútbol (soccer) team, but Papa won’t allow him to travel with his friends to a nearby town to join a soccer clinic to hone his skills. Max can’t understand why Papa is always so protective of him. Does it have something to do with the fact that his mother left him when he was an infant?

Max loves listening to stories narrated by Papa and Buelo about a journey to a faraway land, guarded by a mythical gatekeeper. Max also likes to make up stories and “wonder about big and bewildering things: How long it would take to grow up and become a man, if he would ever see what lay beyond the horizon, and why his mother left and whether he’d ever meet her.”

One day, Max has had enough of Papa’s protectiveness and his family’s secretiveness, and he decides to search for answers. What he discovers confuses him—where is Mañanaland and what does it have to do with his mother?

An unexpected visitor presents Max with a challenge he could never have imagined. So begins Max’s dangerous journey for a cause he is only beginning to understand, one that will stretch his courage to the breaking point and force him to sacrifice like never before. In time, Max learns the true nature of Mañanaland and understands that there is always someone to help and support him in times of trouble.

This stirring novel for middle school readers is emotionally rich and relevant to the current worldwide realities of refugees and migrants. Children raised with a Christian foundation will recognize that the spiritual beliefs of Max’s family and community run counter to biblical truths. Still, the book is a worthy and powerful read as it exemplifies the biblical pursuit of justice and caring for the oppressed. (Scholastic)

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