“Nine-year-old Betita knows she is a crane. Papi has told her the story, even before her family fled to Los Angeles to seek refuge from cartel wars in Mexico. The Aztecs came from a place called Aztlan, what is now the Southwest US, called the land of the cranes. They left Aztlan to establish their great city in the center of the universe-Tenochtitlan, modern-day Mexico City. It was prophesized that their people would one day return to live among the cranes in their promised land. Papi tells Betita that they are cranes that have come home.
Then one day, Betita’s beloved father is arrested by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and deported to Mexico. Betita and her pregnant mother are left behind on their own, but soon they too are detained and must learn to survive in a family detention camp outside of Los Angeles. Even in cruel and inhumane conditions, Betita finds heart in her own poetry and in the community she and her mother find in the camp. The voices of her fellow asylum seekers fly above the hatred keeping them caged, but each day threatens to tear them down lower than they ever thought they could be. Will Betita and her family ever be whole again?”
-Synopsis from Goodreads
I first came across this book last year when I was browsing for books on Libby. I had planned to read the e-book but ended up getting a copy at my local library instead.
The story opens with Betita and her parents living in Los Angeles. They have a close community in their neighborhood, and Betita loves to write and illustrate poems for her father.
When her father doesn’t show up to pick her up from school one day, Betita’s nightmare begins. It takes a few days for her mother to learn that he was taken by ICE and deported to Mexico. At first it seems like this is the only hurdle her family will have to deal with, but soon she and her mother become entangled in the mess at the border and they are taken to a detention center.
At times this was difficult to read in much the same way as it has been difficult to follow the news of migrants being detained at the U.S. border. It is painful but necessary to know what is going on at the border and how people are being treated. It is a human rights crisis of the highest degree. Betita’s story is the story of so many children and families who have been subjected to this trauma and it is heartbreaking to know this is taking place.
What I struggled with while reading was trying to determine the intended age group for this book. Betita seems much younger than she actually is. One on hand I would think this means that younger readers will relate to her better. But at the same time her words and thoughts are so childlike that I don’t know that they are translating, figuratively not literally.
For example, Betita talks about the silver capes they are given at the detention center, and there is an illustration of her sitting on the ground with wings. Would a child reading this know that the “capes” or “wings” are actually foil blankets that migrants are given? I’m not sure that they would be able to make the connection.
There are a lot of complex concepts in this book that I think younger readers will struggle to comprehend. I think this would have been an outstanding book for older, teen readers, but because it is marketed as children’s, we have a child protagonist, acting very young, with a lot of complex details surrounding her that didn’t mesh in a very effective way. To sum it up, even though this is a children’s book, I would hesitate to recommend it to anyone age ten or younger. At the same time, recommending it to a teen reader doesn’t seem right either because Betita sounds like a very young child and I don’t think they would relate to her.
I do think that this confusing narration took away slightly from the bigger story here and that was a little disappointing to me.