Solito is Javier Zamora's poetic memoir of his 3,000-mile trek from El Salvador to "La USA" as an undocumented migrant. This heart-pounding, vivid recollection of a desperate path to a better life takes readers every terrifying step of the way.
In a first-person, present-tense narrative, nine-year-old Zamora--whom his Abuelita Neli calls "Javiercito"--recalls preparing for "the trip." It is 1999, and he leaves his beloved Grandpa, Abuelita and Tía Mali to join his Mom and Dad in California. He imagines flying like Superman to a reunion with his parents after his family pays Don Dago, the coyote who, four years prior, safely guided his Mom north. Stoic, resilient Javier seems older than nine, but Zamora (Unaccompanied) reveals the shy boy who struggles to tie his shoes, fears flush toilets and fantasizes about ice-cold Coke. The trek becomes an increasingly harrowing two-month journey by boat, bus and pickup truck--but mostly step by step. Lonely Javier establishes a protective "fake family" with Patricia and her daughter, Carla, as well as a man named Chino. Successive "polleros" guide them, handing the travelers off like a flock of chickens. Their fear of "La Migra" heightens as they approach what Zamora calls "Gringolandia."
Zamora creates a sense of immediacy with vibrant descriptions: the moon like "a lopsided egg," rationed water sloshing in plastic jugs with duct-tape handles, sweltering days turning to freezing nights and the group of migrants walking in double lines like a "fat centipede." Javier and his "family," undaunted by two failed crossing attempts and a terrifying detention, repeatedly whisper: "Está bien." Miraculously, this "it's okay" comes true. --Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.