March 06, 2006 12:00 PM

by Sonia Nazario

REVIEWED BY SUE CORBETT

NONFICTION

Like thousands of other Central American women too poor to feed their children, a Honduran mother named Lourdes left for el norte in 1989, planning to find work, save money and return quickly. After 11 years went by, her son Enrique, “so young when [Lourdes] left he can barely remember what she looks like,” decided to follow her into the unknown. The extraordinary story told by Los Angeles Times reporter Nazario traces Enrique’s life from the age of 16, when he leaves Tegucigalpa, becoming one of an estimated 48,000 children who illegally enter the U.S. from Central America and Mexico without parents each year. Penniless, he makes this journey clinging to freight trains—a mode of transportation known as El Tren de la Muerte (the Train of Death) because so many migrants die, lose limbs or are brutalized by gangsters. Beaten and robbed of everything but his underwear, Enrique wonders if his mother will ever know he died trying to reach her. Though he does eventually find Lourdes, their reunion is not the happily-ever-after many readers will want. Nazario herself is a fearless reporter who traveled hundreds of miles atop freight trains in order to palpably re-create the danger that faces young migrants as they flee north. Her searing report from the immigration frontlines, initially published in 2002, won two Pulitzer Prizes. Expanded and updated, this book-length account of the risks teens are taking to escape poverty and find their mothers is as harrowing as it is heartbreaking.

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