Manny is a street orphan living in Juarez, Mexico, whose life is full of hunger and danger. He lives in a cardboard lean-to. He had been abandoned by his mother when he was a baby and raised for a time by nuns in a Catholic orphanage. He begs for food and for money from tourists. Since he is small for his age, he has to be very clever about money he gets from tourists, as bigger boys will beat him and take his hard-won money away. He is also concerned about men who will steal him off the streets and act as pimps to sell him to older men. (This is a book that can be read by students younger than those in high school, so the words prostitution and pimp are never used, but the more mature reader understands what is being discussed.)
Robert S. Locke is exacting about forms and ritual of the army. Unfortunately, images of dead friends from Vietnam still haunt him, and he wipes these away with Cutty Sark. Manny “meets” the sergeant one night when Robert is vomiting (drunk) in a Juarez alley. Manny tries to steal Robert’s wallet, unsuccessfully. Subsequent meetings seal a relationship between them, and Manny finally has the courage to tell Locke the truth about himself—that he hopes to cross the border into El Paso and find work. Still the pimps lurk at the edges of Manny’s life.
The Crossing, by Gary Paulsen, is very short, very easy to read, and very well depicts the poverty and fear that would drive Manny to the dangers of the “crossing.”