Where We Come From by Oscar Cásares [in Booklist]
With Spanish names, phrases, and whole sentences appearing every few pages, bilingual narrator Yaeli Arizmendi (the voice of Laura Esquivel’s Spanish editions) instinctively settles into Oscar Cásares’s (Amigoland) latest, in which he returns to his Tex-Mex border hometown of Brownsville.
Almost-septuagenarian Nina’s life is not her own: she’s moved in with her acerbic, 94-year-old mother as primary caretaker, her younger brother bullies her, and somehow the pink house out back has become a stopover for dozens of coyotes’ clients. One night, all the hidden strangers disappear, but 12-year-old Daniel returns after escaping an extensive round-up. While Nina’s trying to keep him safe, her grandnephew-godson Orly, also 12, arrives for a scheduled visit. His mother has recently died, his dad’s taking a business trip, and he’s unsure about these summer weeks … until he discovers he’s not alone.
Versatile Arizmendi smoothly adjusts across ages, genders, and the personalities of the main characters, but her adaptability is just as affecting in voicing the snapshot backstories Cásares imbues in even his most casual narrative passers-by – a trafficker, cart vendor, gardener, police officer, and more – as if both author and narrator insist on acknowledging every individual’s humanity, a notably subversive statement in today’s combative environment.
Review: “Media,” Booklist, January 3, 2020