Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

“When a car came down the street, they all rose and moved their chairs up onto the curb so the car could pass.  The didn’t notice that one of the cars was the big narco LTD.  ‘Adios!’ they called, then moved their chairs back into the narrow street.  Nayeli watched everybody on the curb. She looked very carefully.  And she realized Tacho was right.  There was nobody left in town but women, old men, and little children.”

The men in Nayeli’s isolated Mexican village have all left to seek work in America.  Life continues: she works at the taco stand, helps her aunt campaign for mayor, and goes to movies at the only theater in town.  However, when drug dealers invade the town, she decides she must be the one to act.  She and her friends set out for a small town in Illinois, to find her father and bring him and the other village men back to protect their home.

This is one of the books I’m reading for my presentation at the Colorado Teen Lit Conference! I’m presenting on a trend in queer literature:  now books about LGBT teenagers aren’t always just about coming out.  Instead, there is a movement towards books with queer youth who are already out and doing amazing things like having adventures or solving mysteries.  While Nayeli is straight, her best friend (and owner of “The Fallen Hand”, the taco stand) is Tacho, is.  He demands and receives acceptance for himself in the midst of a hyper-masculine village culture.  His gayness, while mentioned, isn’t central to the story.   I think it shows a normalization of queer youth: their identities no longer have to center around their sexual orientation alone.

Anyway, there are three reasons why this book is awesome.  Firstly, it is a great concept for a story: teenagers crossing the border illegally to bring back men to their home town.  Secondly, Luis Alberto Urrea’s writing is beautiful.  He’s written eleven books, and won many awards for them.  He is poetic, but not overly so, and intersperses the story with non-didactic commentary on relations between the United States and Mexico.  Finally, it combines three of my favorite things: queer characters, minority characters, and road trips!  Excellent!

Happy Reading!

Urrea, Luis Alberto.  Into the Beautiful North. New York: Little, Brown & Co, 2009. 338 p. Ages 15-18.

Author’s website:

If you liked this book, you might like Moloka’i by Alan Brennert, or you could try The House on Mango Street  by Sandra Cisneros.  (Moloka’i is for the adventure-lost-father aspect, and The House on Mango Street is about a Hispanic family in Chicago.  If you like stories about queer characters that are not about coming out, you could try Sprout, and if you like queer characters AND road trips, you could try A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend!

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