Into the Beautiful North

By Luis Alberto Urrea

Place: Publisher & Year: New York: Back Bay Books, 2009

Genre: General fiction

ISBN: 9780316025263

Audience: Adult, young adult

Number of pages: 338

Setting: Tres Camarones & Tijuana, Mexico, San Diego, CA, & Kankakee, IL

Time period: Contemporary

Plot summary: When narcos come to the sleepy town of Tres Camarones, nineteen year old Nayeli, comes up with a brilliant plan for getting rid of them.  Inspired by the movie, The Magificient Seven, she and three of her friends embark on a mission to find seven warriors (cops or soldiers) to drive off the bandits and help repopulate the town.  Nayeli hopes to travel as far as Kankakee, IL to find her father, who (along with most of the other town’s men) left many years earlier in search of work.

Appeal factors:

Pacing: Plenty of dialog and action give this story a brisk pace.

Characterization: The story is told in third person primarily through Nayeli.  Important secondary characters include Nayeli’s friends – Tacho, Yolo, and Vampi – as well as Aunt Irma & Atómico.

Frame: The title sets the frame for the story.  It is also what sets Nayeli on her mission.  The beautiful north is where all of the men of Tres Camarones have headed and where Nayeli must find men worthy of reclaiming Tres Camarones from the narcos.

Story line: A fast and fun story that deals with weighty issues.

Subject headings:

From Pima County Public Library:

Young women — Mexico — Fiction.

City and town life — Mexico — Fiction.

Brigands and robbers — Mexico — Fiction.

Illegal aliens — United States — Fiction.

Return migration — Mexico — Fiction.

Mexico — Emigration and immigration — Fiction.

Similar works:

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent by Julia Alvarez

Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

Nobody’s Son: Notes from an American Life by Luis Alberto Urrea

Tropic of Orange by Karen Tei Yamashita

Personal notes:  This was a wonderful book filled with humor and joy – even in face of dire circumstances.  I loved Atómico!  The characters all felt very real (including the awful Americans), even if the story seemed a bit far fetched.  I appreciated Mary-Jo’s character (the librarian in Kankakee).

I had bought this book at the 2011 Tucson Festival of Books and realized that the next festival is coming up quickly.  I wanted to get it read before the next festival (which Urrea is attending again  – yay!)

Other: Diversity – Mexicans, homosexual, illegal immigrants, ex-missionary

Luis Alberto Urrea’s website

“Kankakee Gets Its Groove Back” – a NY Time Opinion piece written by Urrea and published in 2006.

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