Luis Alberto Urrea. Into the Beautiful North. Little, Brown, 2009. ISBN 978-0316025270 352 pp. $
Truly, it’s the journey, not the destination on this lovely book about a young women whose impoverished town in Mexico has lost all it’s menfolk, including her padre. Their leaving in search of a better life has afforded the women of the town many non-traditional opportunities. When her aunt, now the Mayor, recognizes that without some men around, the town, threatened by drug lords, may become extinct. Nayeli, the flower of her community, also recognizes that it has been a long time since anyone in town was pregnant. Inspired by the film The Magnificent Seven, she volunteers to take some friends on trip to the United States to recruit men, and find her father along the way.
Accompanying her are the beautiful Yolo, lady-fabulous Tacho. There is drama around getting past border patrol and into the States, and some harsh realizations about prejudice and economics and love along the way. Yolo recommends with the handsome Mateo, a peace core volunteer who spent some time in their hometown. Tacho meets a boy, and everywhere they encounter generous kindness and boundless ignorance of strangers. There are some absurdities, and the characters remain unflinchingly hopeful and upbeat, but I chalked it up to the magical realism tendencies of some Hispanic writers.
The perfectly paced narrative is a love letter to a country that is flawed, but wonderful, with luscious tangible sensory details as the friends separate and regroup in their travels through California and cross-country all the way to Iowa. The authentic dialogue is often garnished with Spanish that is definable in context about 90% of the time. It serves to enhance character and setting.
The empowered young protagonists are sure to appeal to younger readers, and the story is highly engaging, dramatic, easy to relate to, and extraordinarily well written. Although there are disappointments along the way, and only half of the goals are achieved, the ending is supremely satisfying.
It did take me a long time to get through this one, but I think it’s a trend I’m noticing with reading things on my Kindle, and not any fault of the author.