Alternating points of view relate the journey of three young teenagers escaping from Guatemala, traveling through Mexico, and attempting to cross the United States boarder. Pulga and Chico are best friends. After Chico's mother is murdered, he moves in with Pulga and his single mother. After they witness a murder of a friendly shop owner by a local gang, they are pressured to either join the gang-or face the consequences. The friends realize that the only way to survive is to flee. Meanwhile, Pequena tries to live her life under the radar. One day she dares to look up and catches the eye of a local thug. Now she has been claimed by him and is pregnant with his baby. Once the baby is delivered, he wants to move the relationship forward. Pequena is sickened by her intended, but fears rejecting him. Escape is the only way out. The three young people, who are family friends, leave the only home they have ever known to escape to the land of freedom and opportunity. The problem is getting into the US and crossing Mexico, a country who also does not want them. The best way to get through Mexico is on top of a series of trains called "The Beast". The three friends slowly make their way into and across Mexico on a journey riddled with danger, deception, and hostility. Some folks they meet along the way are kind and helpful, others are out to trick them, but still they head north, always looking over their shoulders for danger.
This is a very timely novel that will raise awareness about the plight of hopeless young people in Central America who must make the dangerous journey alone to try to find freedom and opportunity. The multiple points of view offer both a male and female perspective and allow for the narration to continue as one character or another is in a situation where they cannot physically or mentally tell the tale. Sanchez has done extensive research to try to relate the plight of the many young people traveling this dangerous path and does not shy away from harsh realities. There are deaths: including one of the main characters, that will shake readers up and pull at their heartstrings. The writing is careful, poetic and beautiful. Although the action never stops, the characters are well developed and there are period of reflection and rest. I found the book hard to put down once I started and fretted about the outcome of the characters as I turned the pages. Young readers will also care and become better informed citizens of the world as they travel along with the three young people on this dangerous, yet not well known, path. A fun book or light escape it is not, but this is an important tale that readers will be better off for delving into with possible curriculum connections for schools. Already receiving buzz and starred reviews, this book is sure to be on many "best of the year" lists and will receive well deserved awards.