Hobbs, Will. Crossing the Wire. HarperTrophy, 2006. 216p. Grades 6-12. Adventure.
Fifteen year old Victor Flores’ family is on the verge of starvation in the tiny Mexican village of Los Árboles, and as he sees it, his only option is to “cross the wire” at the United States border and become an undocumented migrant worker in order to send money home. Victor’s path to the US is decidedly not straight, and though his attempts are ultimately successful, he experiences many hardships and setbacks along the way. Timely and accessible for young readers, this action-packed novel documents in detailed fashion both the physical and emotional desperation felt by Victor and his fellow immigrants.
Thoughts- Truth time, y’all. I did not love this book. I didn’t even like it. Overall, it left me feeling pretty empty and disappointed. I really expected to like it a lot since I follow a lot of the long-form journalism surrounding undocumented workers, and I thought the young adult perspective would be fresh and exciting. Unfortunately, I found Crossing the Wire stilted and heavy-handed. The dialogue seemed so contrived (what teenagers don’t use contractions?), and where I thought the plotting would be fast-paced, it just seemed to drag and drag. On the plus side, I could tell that Hobbs had really done his research into the culture of the region and the nuances of the border crossing experience, and I found those details interesting and well-done. I particularly liked the way he focused on several different types of workers—young people like Victor, Julio, and Rico, more experienced immigrants like Miguel—and the different experiences people can have attempting to cross—paying a coyote, sneaking across alone, becoming a drug mule. I also thought the attention to setting was well-done; the descriptions of the desert, the trains, and the small towns in both Arizona and Mexico really evoked that particular region and seemed very authentic.
Despite these positives (and despite the fact that I know this book has been critically acclaimed), Victor’s narrative just didn’t work for me because I didn’t find his voice believable. I didn’t see him as a real person at all—he just seemed like a stock character that Hobbs was putting into these situations, and I felt like I could almost see the author with a little paper doll, moving it back and forth across some map of the region. I never felt connected to Victor and his plight anywhere in the novel…I worried more about what happened to Julio and Miguel than the person to whom I knew I was supposed to be connected. I also felt like the plotting was very slow, and I understand that the back and forth of the journey was intentional and meant to truly demonstrate how hard this situation really is, but I just thought it dragged on and on. I feel like someone looking for a fast-paced, page-turner of an adventure story isn’t going to find that in Crossing the Wire, and if he/she has a specific interest in this topic, one would be better off looking at some of the non-fiction journalism being done in magazines and newspapers, particularly Texas Monthly.