I read this in a day. I couldn’t stop reading.
It starts slowly, with Jacinta – the American-born daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants living in Colorado – wanting a mentor so she can be part of the white world, the ‘barrio blanco’ of the title. She wants to take gym lessons, learn French, go to the ballet. And she succeeds.
Then grim reality intrudes, and the tension starts to build, as her father is arrested by the immigration authorities. (Her mother is back in Mexico, trying to find a ‘coyote’ to smuggle her into the US.) Reading of Jacinta’s struggle just to find out where he’s been locked up – let alone help him – is painful and gripping. It’s also the opening of a window into another world, as Jacinta is forced to deal with truant officers, looking after her baby sister, surviving without parents on next to no money. It’s the other side, the human side, of Trump’s ‘very bad hombres’.
And what I also like is that Jacinta herself is no lovable Pollyanna. She’s impetuous, envious and angry, as well as determined, loving and tough. Some readers have been put off by this. She’s too difficult they say. They must be forgetting their own childhood. I can’t recall many 12-year-olds who are models of calm, logical thinking under stress. They’re all over the place, with a thousand different thoughts a second. Jacinta’s a believable, fully-drawn character.
Her story is gripping. And highly recommended.