Sixteen-year-old Maria de la Soledad, born on December 18, the feast of Our Lady of Solitude, feels her parents cursed her by naming her Soledad – solitude – loneliness. Though Soledad has tried, she’s never been able to rid herself of the self-perceived burden that comes with her name: “My loneliness has a way of following me wherever I go. I used to try to run away from it – I even tried to convince people to call me Marisol, but the nickname didn’t stick, so I had to try with Sol instead. It was then, once people stopped calling me solitude and started calling me sun, that I almost fooled myself into believing I would become a different person.”
Sol is carrying numerous burdens besides her name. She’s the only member of her family who was born in America and has dual citizenship. For two years now she has crossed the international border between her hometown of Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, Calif., a mere few miles away – yet worlds apart – to attend high school. And since Mama died a year ago and the family-owned restaurant, their only source of income, is faltering, Sol must take on a part-time job before and after school in San Diego and stay with a childhood friend and her mother. None of what Sol does is for herself: “I cross the border every morning to go to school so I can become the first person in our family to go to college. I’ll get a degree so I can get a good job. I’ll work hard so I can take care of Papi and Abuela when they’re older.” Sol would give anything to give up her newest responsibility – saving her family from financial ruin.
As Sol navigates her new reality, she endures loneliness, exhaustion, and a sense of dislocation like never before, yet she also discovers friendship, love, and loyalty. Still, as she travels home on weekends and returns to San Diego during the week, she is confronted with a nagging sense of displacement. Sol tells her friend Ari, “Whenever I’m in the US, my heart is in Mexico. And when I’m in Mexico, my head is in the U.S. I’ve never been able to be in a single place fully. I’ve been neither here nor there.”
In this compassionate, realistic, and hopeful novel for young adults, author Daniel Aleman invites readers to imagine and emotionally engage with a protagonist who is forced by economic, familial, and international realities to take on the responsibilities of an adult while she is still a minor. Yet Sol discovers that what her grandmother experienced in her own difficult life can be true for her as well – that though change so often feels final and harsh, it “gives as much as it takes, and it can open doors you never even knew existed.”
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)