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At 11 years of age, Efren has a lot on his mind. He realizes his hardworking, loving mother and father—Ama and Apa—do all they can to give him and his 6-year-old twin siblings, Max and Mia, a secure life. But life feels anything but safe because, though Efren and his siblings were born in the United States, his Mexican-born parents are undocumented. Residing near the border between the two nations, they live in constant fear of being deported back to their homeland and being separated from their children. Efren is aware that he must not share this secret with others. So he silently shoulders the family’s burden.

At school, Efren has other problems. His best friend, David—the only white kid on Efren’s block and a misunderstood boy whose mother is a recovering alcoholic—is running for student president. Efren wants to be loyal to David, but he sees that he is showy and loud and his platform has no substance. On the other hand, the other candidate, whose mother is also undocumented, wants to speak up about issues that matter.

When life spirals out of control—Ama is detained and deported to Mexico; Apa takes on another job to earn money to bring Ama home; Efren is put in charge of Max and Mia and of running the household; and Efren and David become estranged—Efren works hard to keep his family together. He begins to understand the enormous sacrifices his parents have made to offer their children a better future than they themselves had growing up in Mexico. Filled with resolve to do his part to bring Ama home, Efren convinces Apa to allow him to cross the border to meet Ama and give her the funds she needs for the return journey.

In this timely, realistic novel for middle school readers, containing several instances of profanity, children encounter a protagonist who has been shaped by loving, principled parents, several understanding teachers, neighbors who share the same dilemmas of poverty and being undocumented, some sensitive friends, and a religious background in which prayer is an integral part of life. Though recommended for children ages 8-12, the book is better suited for ages 10 and older. (Quill Tree Books)

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