Tres Camarones, Sinaloa, Mexico just isn’t what it used to be. Looking for work, nearly all of the men have disappeared “into the beautiful north”—the United States. Nayeli, the young woman who has this revelation, decides to do something about it. After seeing her Aunt Irma’s favorite movie The Magnificent Seven (a classic Western, super popular in the 1960s), Nayeli decides to take her three best friends and cross the border. She is going to bring back seven Mexican men to help protect her little town from bandidos and drug smugglers. And she has secret motives as well. She wants to find her crush, a cute Southern California surfer who was also a Christian missionary in Sinaloa years before. Even more importantly, she wants to find her father, who disappeared into Illinois three years earlier.
Into the Beautiful North is by turns sad, frightening and comic. Nayeli (karate queen and soccer star), Yolo, Vampie (the only goth girl in town), and Tacho (openly gay, but feeling like a misfit) have a harrying journey through Mexico even before they try to cross the border. Their experiences on their journey—including their dealings with ‘coyotes,’ skin heads, drug smugglers, police, and Homeland Security, are realistic and frightening. Their experiences with kind strangers, some who live in a dump and yet still have the heart to help others, is also realistic.
All the characters are well drawn and quirky: Aunt Irma, the former bowling champion, women’s rights advocate and now Mayor of Tres Camarones; Atomiko, the dump ‘rat,’ who is also hero and protector to the group of friends; Tacho, gay in a closeted society but nevertheless enjoying life and becoming Nayeli’s hero.
The way that Urrea includes all points of view is unusual for a contemporary book, but it works very well. As the group takes a road trip—and later, when Nayeli and Tacho are crossing the United States on their own—the descriptions of the landscape and the atmosphere peculiar to each town are poetic. As the characters see the country for the first time, we readers see it anew through each individual’s eyes (and recognize the scents through their noses and the sensations through their fingertips). Though Nayeli’s ‘hero’s quest’ ends exactly as I knew it would (and from the writing, it seems the author thinks I’ll be surprised), I was wondering throughout the book how Nayeli herself would react to her disillusionment. Urrea did a great job with that.
This is a wonderful book for looking into the hope and desperation of people seeking a better life—and how a home town, with a little help from the good guys (and gals) can work to help all its residents. If your teacher asks you to take a modern novel and describe the hero’s journey, this would be a fun one to use because you’ll enjoy it so much for so many reasons.