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Review – Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

into the beautiful north

Into the Beautiful North
by Luis Alberto Urrea
352 pages
Published May 19, 2009

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea takes place in Tres Camarones (Three Shrimp), Mexico, a town similar to the one in which the author actually grew up in. Times are tough and one day the women look at each other and realize that ALL THE MEN have left to find better work in America. But where does that leave the women in the town? Vulnerable to bandidos (outlaws; bandits) who want to take over the town, that’s where!

After watching THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN at their local theater, some of the women decide it would be best to bring back men who can protect their town, men such as cops and soldiers. A group is formed that will cross into America, find some men, and come back to Tres Camarones.

The small group consists of Nayeli, 19, who has at least one connection in America with a boy who was a missionary in Tres Camarones a few years ago; Tacho, a very feminine gay man; Vampi, the goth girl; and Yolo, a girl who likes to read. They set off on the treacherous journey of going to America illegally. They start with a sketchy bus ride and eventually end up with a coyote who agrees to take them across the border. Nothing on this trip goes as they planned, anticipated, or hoped.

There’s an interesting juxtaposition in this book: All of the complaints Americans have about immigrants (i.e. Mexicans), Mexicans have about Hondurans:

These illegals come to Mexico expecting a free ride! Don’t tell me you didn’t have Salvadorans and Hondurans in your school, getting the best education in the world! They take our jobs, too….What we need is a wall on our southern border.

I liked that the author sprinkled Spanish words and phrases in the story, giving it a more authentic flavor and reminding the reader that the protagonists weren’t American, but I started feeling it was being overdone. There was one part where Tacho talks for 6 or 7 sentences in Spanish, and in the next line, I read this:

All the girlfriends noted that Tacho was venting his profound disquiet over their recent spate of bad luck and trouble.

Yes, that’s TRUE, but I felt like I was watching a foreign film where someone goes on and on and then on the subtitles I see: “I said no.” I want to yell at the TV and say, “Okay, yes, maybe that’s the GIST of what the person’s saying, but I’m missing so much when you PARAPHRASE.” I’ll admit this was the only time I noticed the author writing a whole paragraph in Spanish, but I think the Spanish words sprinkled in the story could have been done a little less liberally.

One highlight in the book is the humor. Luis Alberto Urrea has a great sense of humor that comes across in his writing. I’m sure this would be a great book to listen to on audio as I’m sure it would make you laugh out loud. One incident in the book has to do with Tacho, who can’t help but find himself in bizarre situations, and he’s eventually separated from the group because when they’re caught by the border patrol, Tacho says in Spanish, “La Mano Caido”, which sounds like Al Qaeda in English, so he’s taken to be interrogated. Urrea deftly plays on words, making the reading a lot of fun.

Nayeli is also a sympathetic character, determined to bring back men to protect her town as well as find her father who abandoned her family and who is now living in the United States.

All in all, this book didn’t work for me. It did, however, make me look at immigration slightly differently than I did before I read the book.

Also, I still want to read Luis Alberto Urrea’s The Hummingbird’s Daughter. If Into the Beautiful North doesn’t appeal to you, then perhaps The Hummingbird’s Daughter will.

Rating: 75 out of 100

Luis Alberto Urrea’s website

Other reviews:

medieval bookworm

The Biblio Brat

Booking Mama


Beth Fish Reads

Drey’s Library

Book source: I received this book as a review copy from the publisher.

And one more thing? If you click on one of the Into the Beautiful North links and buy something from Amazon, I’ll make a commission! Mwahahahaha!! Maybe with the pennies I make I’ll be able to call someone who cares.

You can thank the FTC for this disclosure!

| Tags: , , , 17 comments »

17 Responses to “Review – Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea”

  1. diane

    I’ve been wanting to read this one Trish –started it, then stopped, but one day I’ll try it again. By your review it seems worth attempting again….thanks


  2. Kathleen

    Sounds like it would be more enjoyable to listen to the book vs. read it, based on your review!


  3. Meghan

    Nice review, Trish – you definitely isolated some issues with it that I know I had, but I enjoyed the humor as well. I have The Hummingbird’s Daughter and I intend to read it in 2010.


  4. J.T. Oldfield

    Is it bad that I see that name and I’m like, oh, that would be good for the A to Z challenge?


  5. The Kool-Aid Mom

    I’ve read several reviews of this book, and most seem to feel it fell short. It’s too bad, too, because the cover art is quite lovely.

    It’s interesting how every people group has another group that’s “ruining everything” in their oppinion. I wonder if there’s one group that the bottom rung of it all… lol. I suppose they’d say “We ruin everything”.


  6. Jenny

    hmm, interesting review… I just started reading this book last night and have been super excited about reading it. But I’m also very excited to get to my books I got for Christmas and this is a library book so I thought about just taking it back and reading it later. But I went ahead and started it because I’ve been wanting to read it for so long! I’m only 30ish pages in so far and am thinking some of the same things you wrote about… like how the spanish words make it more authentic (and I do understand most of it) but I still was thinking that not everyone would and in that case there is too much spanish. I haven’t decided if I’m going to finish this one right now or not.


  7. Just Mom

    I won this one awhile back and it is still in my TBR pile. Nice to read your review – it will probably stay put for a little longer but I will get to it eventually! It intrigues me.


  8. Lisa

    I think I’ll hold off on this author until I see what you think of the next book.


  9. Ralph

    OK, so who pinned who or was it penned? Sounds like fun either way.


  10. Beth F

    Great review, Trish. I think you summed up the problems and strengths very well.


  11. Jessica

    I often feel the same way when an author throws in bits of other languages. The flavor is nice, but I’m reading the book in ENGLISH, and I need to understand what is going on!


  12. Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit)

    I really enjoyed this book, but it may have been because I listened to the audio and the narrator did a fantastic job. I think at some point I will read the hardcover I have on the shelf too.

    Thanks for the honest review.


  13. Elizabeth

    I reviewed this book back in May, and I thought there was too much Espanol for most readers, also, I can read it, but most of the people I know would have gotten bogged down with it. However, I really did enjoy the book, maybe because I was prepared to not like it and put it off for a long time. You know how that goes!


  14. zibilee

    I have been curious about reading this book, but after reading your review, I think I will pass on it. It’s not quite what I expected, but I really liked your review. Sorry it wasn’t what you were expecting either!


  15. Kari

    I got this book at BEA, and I still haven’t read it! Maybe someday…


  16. Kathy

    I liked this one more than you did. Sorry it didn’t work for you.


  17. Joanna

    I’m glad to know that someone else both appreciated this book, and yet in the end didn’t really like it. I felt there were fabulous things about this book — the characters, the language, the ideas, the new sense of Mexico and immigrants that you get from it. But, like you, I didn’t end up enjoying it as much as I thought I would about halfway through. In fact, I found myself abandoning ship less than 100 pages from the end. Maybe at some point I’ll go back and try again, but your review sort of convinced me that I wasn’t wrong. While good in many ways, there just wasn’t a payoff.


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