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Border Child | Book Review

Posted on November 8, 2016

51tpel3t-l-_sy346_For Héctor and Lilia, pursuit of the American Dream became every parent’s worst fear when their infant daughter vanished as they crossed from Mexico to the United States—now they must try to get her back. With great empathy and a keen awareness of current events, Michel Stone delivers a novel of surpassing sensitivity and heart.

Young lovers Héctor and Lilia dreamed of a brighter future for their family in the United States. Héctor left Mexico first, to secure work and housing, but when Lilia, desperate to be with Héctor, impetuously crossed the border with their infant daughter, Alejandra, mother and child were separated. Alejandra disappeared. Now, four years later, the family has a chance to reunite, but the trauma of the past may well be permanent.

     Back in their sleepy hometown of Oaxaca, the couple enjoys a semblance of normal life, with a toddler son and another baby on the way. Then they receive an unexpected tip that might lead them to Alejandra, and both agree they must seize this chance, whatever the cost. Working increasingly illegal jobs to earn money for his journey north, Héctor seeks more information about his long-absent daughter. Meanwhile, a bedridden Lilia awaits the birth of their third child, but cannot keep herself from reliving the worst mistakes of her past. In luminous, compassionate prose, Michel Stone drops readers into the whirlwind of the contemporary immigrant experience, where a marriage is strained to the breaking point by the consequences of wanting more for the next generation.

Author: Michel Stone
Genre: Horror, Mystery & Thriller
Number of Pages: 272
Purchase onAmazon

Hernández Novels Score: 2.5/5

When I came across Border Child on NetGalley I was extremely excited. As a Mexican immigrant myself, born to immigrant parents, the synopsis offered by the publisher on the novel really drew me in. I was immediately excited to get ready and start reading this story.

As I began reading the story, I quickly realized how slow the plot, and the action of the story, moved. Michel Stone over does her imagery and throws in descriptions and pieces that are not needed to push the plot forward. At no point throughout the story was I completely captured by the plot, the characters, or the overarching theme. This is a novel that, had I not agreed to review for a free and advanced copy (as it wont be released until April 2017), I would’ve put on my “Started Reading, Never Finished” pile of books. At the end of the day, I was truly disappointed.

The main characters, Lilia and Héctor, have a lot to offer. Both are fully developed characters with complex emotions, wandering thoughts, and moral struggles. They’ve lost a child in their hopes of seeking a better life and one of them is to blame for it. The tension, and ultimately love, between the two is so palpable that at certain points, my heart broke for them and their struggle to find their young daughter Alejandra. However, on top of two completely deep characters, we meet tons of flat, one-dimensional characters along with a difficult plot that made very little sense many, many times.

Héctor goes off to work some odd jobs to make money to find Alejandra. FINALLY…some action. And then…nothing. We board the train, then it breaks down and we’re forced to get off. Except, another never comes. There is so much mystery surrounding what Héctor is doing and the people he meets, but we never really, truly find out what it is he was doing and who exactly he was working for. Again, we meet side characters that are not fully developed that have very little to offer. Michel takes us one way and then all of a sudden jumps course and starts somewhere else. It just didn’t make sense.

Though I wasn’t a big fan of the ending because I needed more closure, the final lines of the story, said by Héctor, completely filled my heart. The main characters are easy to fall in love with, and the plot has a strong potential, but Michel needs to go back to the editing board and cut the dead weight off the story. I’d urge her to focus on the necessary details, develop some of the additional characters (like Rosa), and plug the holes in the plot. Then, maybe then, she’ll have a story worth reading that may fulfill its readers.

What I really liked about the book:
– Every chapter focuses on a different character, moving back and forth between places, time, and plot. This was a huge strength of the book because it kept it refreshing. However, certain names drew a sigh from me because I knew I was in for a boring chapter.

What I really didn’t like about the book:
– The amount of mystery and deceptive action. A lot of the plot revolves around preparing the reader for something that never happens, and as the climax rises, it fizzles.
– My biggest issue with the book is that it reads as a story told by an outsider with very little information. I don’t know much about Michel Stone, and I couldn’t find much information about her online, but I don’t think she’s a Mexican immigrant writing about an experience she knows a lot of. The book’s vocabulary is definitely white-washed. The author needs more depth in her knowledge of what she’s decided to write about.

At the end of the day, I don’t entirely regret reading the book, but I was left disappointed. I wanted more action, more emotion, and more depth. It does appear, however, that Border Child is a follow-up to Michel’s first, highly-acclaimed novel, The Iguana Tree. Her debut novel tells the story of Lilia and Héctor’s crossing. I look forward to reading it and comparing that novel to this one. Perhaps Michel’s debut is much stronger than her follow-up.

Michel, thank you for your courage to write about topics not everyone dives into. Please continue doing so, and give yourself the time to dive deep into your own work until you feel it has come fully alive.

Does Border Child sound like something you want to read? Why or why not? Leave your thoughts, comments, questions, and suggestions below!

Hoping to read Michel’s debut soon,
Francisco

Esmeralda’s Story – Chapter 2

Posted on October 24, 2016

Note: The following is only a small, abbreviated version of a larger, more detailed chapter in an upcoming novel of mine. All work is copyrighted.
Catch up on Esmeralda’s Story: Read the Prologue here, and Chapter 1 here.

img_5829Officer García asked Esmeralda to wait in the lobby. She sat quietly until a grieving mother and her child came in and sat across from her.

She saw the pain in the woman’s tears, tears shed through a swollen, black eye. Esmeralda didn’t understand. Why was the woman crying? Hadn’t her suffering ended?

Rosalinda, four years old, sat quietly, perplexed. She didn’t understand her mother’s grief and didn’t quite yet know her father had been murdered. Her eyes had a tinge of innocence left in them still.

As Esmeralda watched Rosalinda and the purple bruises on her little arms, she thought about her childhood…


Esmeralda, only twelve years old, sat on the kitchen table doing her homework while her mother cooked dinner. It was a day nobody liked. It wasn’t an easy day for anyone.

As Alma stirred the lentil chicken soup, tears swelled in her eyes as grief pounded her heart, begging for mercy…begging for a lost soul. Her pain was unbearable.

Esmeralda could hear her mother’s heart aching across the kitchen floor. She wanted to free her from her chains but didn’t know how.

Her father came busting through the front door, toppling over, the smell of whiskey pouring from his pores. He was back from a three day binge.

“Alma, where is my fucking dinner, Alma? My dinner. Alma!”

Esmeralda immediately made herself small while holding her stomach tight. The bruises from the last beating were still fresh. She was scared. She tried not to move.

“It’s coming, Héctor, it’s coming,” said Alma, her voice quivering and cowering. She was a tiny woman, fragile and broken. Her knitted sweater covered the previous weeks’ wounds.

“Why isn’t it ready!? Fucking pendeja! You can’t do shit!” Héctor slammed the kitchen table with his bare fist, threatening Alma. Esmeralda held herself tighter.

“Are you crying!? You’re crying? Instead of fixing my damn dinner!?” Alma felt Héctor’s knuckles dig deeply into the back of her head in one quick punch. She remained still, the pain throbbing into her crumbled soul.

Esmeralda knew her father was very drunk. His hair was disheveled and his eyes bulging, bloodshot. She didn’t know how to help her Mom. She was so small.

“What are you looking at!?” With a hand the size of the child’s face, Héctor slapped Esmeralda hard across the face. Blood fell from her innocent lips onto the table.

She knew better than to look him in the eyes. That was her mistake. It was her fault she got slapped.

“What is this shit!? Sopa, Alma, sopa!?” His body continued to rock violently.

Alma burst into tears. “Héctor, por favor, not today! You know what today is!”

She held her head down, staring at her feet hoping his wrath wouldn’t rain down on her. Her plea had been risky. He was so drunk, but maybe he’d take mercy on her today.

Héctor came closer to Alma, who was standing by the stove. He stumbled back and forth, unable to balance himself well. Silence fell over them.

Then, in one swift instance, Héctor grabbed the boiling pot by the handle and threw the soup towards Alma’s face.

She tried to move out of the way but couldn’t react fast enough. Her arm was immediately on fire, sending a piercing, throbbing pain deep into her bone as her shrieking screams filled the kitchen.

“Papi!” Esmeralda cried as she ran to push her father away. Héctor turned towards her, eyes full of deep, dark anger, and slammed the pot across her head.

“Go to your room! Ahora! Go!” Esmeralda pressed her hand on her scalp as hard as she could, trying to alleviate the pain. Her head, and now her hand, were burning. She sobbed as she ran to safety.

Esmeralda’s entire face was swollen and her spirit broken. Her father had finally taken the last bits of her childish innocence. She went into her closet and curled up on top of her shoes, sobbing uncontrollably, painfully. The taste of her tears and blood was familiar.

She could hear her father yelling and her Mom crying, begging for mercy. She wanted to help but didn’t know how. She was so, so small.

“Héctor, porfavor!” Her Mom’s pleas came before the all too familiar sound of a fist on bare skin, of a foot slamming hard onto a stomach.

The fight grew louder and louder, more painful each second, a savage beating by an angry drunk and worthless man who had no decent way of dealing with his own cowardly pain.

Esmeralda tried to tune it all out, but the sound of a window breaking startled her.

“Héctoooooooor!” It was Alma’s voice from a distance, followed by a loud thud far away. Esmeralda could hear screams down on the street. They lived on the fifth floor. She curled up tighter, pressing her knees against her chest and her head into her thighs.


“Miss, this way please.”

Esmeralda snapped out of painful memory to nostalgic existence. She rose to follow Officer García, but first she knelt down by Rosalinda.

“He wont hurt you or your mommy ever again,” she whispered, giving the small child a subtle hug. Esmeralda wasn’t so small anymore.