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2 August 2020 ILLEGAL by Francisco X. Stork, Scholastic Press, August 2020, 304p., ISBN: 978-1-338-31055-9


“The Smithsonian National Museum of American History is considering adding pictures drawn by immigrant children in detention centers...The children who had been recently released from Texas detention centers made drawings done in black and dark green...Each drawing depicts bars...”

-- Michelle Cruz Gonzales, from “The Smithsonian is Preserving A Part of Our Most Shameful History by Exhibiting Drawings From Children in Cages” July 2019


“The United States has undermined its credibility in the global drive to end human trafficking by giving itself top marks in its annual report on the crime despite dwindling prosecutions and protection for foreign victims, advocates said on Monday…

Several anti-trafficking organizations questioned how the United States could maintain the top ranking despite having acknowledged a decline in prosecutions and victim protection--two of three key factors upon which countries are assessed.

‘When the United States upgrades undeserving countries and fails to honestly assess its own shortcomings, it loses credibility and the ability to persuade other countries to do better,’ the foundation Humanity United said in a statement.”

-- Christine Murray, Reuters (6/29/20)



“‘Maybe the whole image I had of the asylum process was wrong, naive somehow.’

‘How so?’

‘I imagined that all I had to do was show the authorities the evidence of actual persecution, of actual threats, as in people machine-gunning our house in Juárez. I had all that hard evidence I had collected in that flash drive I gave to your father. They would see my articles in El Sol about the Desparecidas, the e-mails threatening my life, the work I did to rescue my friend Linda and the other girls being held by Hinojosa. I imagined I could bring lots of witnesses to testify on my behalf--Special Agent Durand, the FBI agent who helped me, the neighbors who witnessed the shooting of my house. I saw my case as fitting within the legal reasons for asylum under the laws of the United States. Was I wrong about the United States?’”



“I knew by the bulk of the envelope that it contained money. Could it be that I had judged Abe Gropper wrong, that underneath the orneriness, there was generosity? I searched the man’s face for kindness, but there was none.

‘Go on. Open it.’

The envelope was not sealed. I opened it and saw the hundred-dollar bills.

‘Five thousand dollars. All yours. There’ll be another five thousand when you do what I ask.’

‘Do what?’

Abe grinned, like he knew I would bite and ask that very question. I tried to swallow, but my mouth was dry. My heart beat uncontrollably and there was nothing I could do to slow it down.

‘It’s very simple,’ Abe continued. ‘Bring me the phone.’”


ILLEGAL is the sequel to Francisco X. Stork’s DISAPPEARED, which was published in 2017. The two books are eye-opening, edge-of-your-seat reads. I advise reading DISAPPEARED before starting ILLEGAL. 


As we learn in DISAPPEARED, Sara is a young Mexican investigative reporter who has been writing about hundreds of girls disappearing from the streets of Ciudad Juárez. Sara’s best friend Linda Fuentes was among the missing. A threatening email is sent to Sara’s editor. designed to stop Sara from any further digging. But an expert successfully follows the electronic trail back to the sender leading to the rescue of Linda and some other young victims.


Before she is freed, Linda succeeds in sending Sara the cell phone of her enslaver, a Mexican crime boss. The phone presumably contains information about many other young Mexican women who have been kidnapped and spirited into the U.S. to be sold as sex slaves. 


Sara, Emilano, and their mom are fortunate to escape their ramshackle house before it is machine-gunned by the bad guys. But Sara and Emiliano are as good as dead if they remain in Mexico. The resulting plan: head north.


DISAPPEARED concludes with the siblings barely surviving their escape across the U.S. border and through the desert. Sara intends to seek asylum and is incarcerated in a Trump-era school-turned-detention center. Meanwhile, Emiliano takes possession of the cell phone and nearly dies in the desert. Recovering, thanks to kind strangers (and an ornery horse) who find him, Emiliano desperately needs to make contact with trustworthy authorities who can retrieve and act upon the contents of the phone. But who can he trust? It turns out that there are people with US governmental ties who are part of the kidnapping web.


Both DISAPPEARED and ILLEGAL are narrated, in alternating chapters, by the two siblings. They are exciting and nail-biting tales that tie into current issues.


What moved me most about the two books is the conscious decision making in which Emiliano repeatedly engages. 


Emiliano had been an angry adolescent. The siblings' father had previously left the family to sneak across the U.S. border, and was supposed to earn enough money to send a bunch back and make the family’s life more bearable. Instead, their father abandoned the family, initiated a long-distance divorce, married an American woman in the Midwest, and started another family. 


Angry at his father, and having been engaged in a series of self-destructive acts, Emiliano was saved from himself by Brother Patricio. He and Emiliano subsequently founded the Jiparis, a Scout-like organization designed to help other at-risk teens. 


Learning by teaching is a powerful tool. Throughout the saga, we see Emiliano being guided by moral principles he’d learned during his time with Brother Patricio. Emiliano had, in turn, been teaching these ethical pillars to the Jiparis. We see him thinking about the right thing to do, and pondering how it might feel if his young charges back in Juarez learned he was acting in a way contrary to what he’d taught them. 


Dare I ask for another sequel? There is a satisfying conclusion to ILLEGAL, but plenty of loose ends to continue exploring.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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