The Only Road Book Review (2024)

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this book.

  • Educational Value

    a lot

    Author Alexandra Diaz, who herself immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba as a child, makes vividly personal the current events, from poverty to murderous gangs, driving hundreds of thousands of desperate Central Americans, many of them unaccompanied children, to do whatever it takes to get to the relative safety of the U.S. As protagonists Jaime and Ángela make their way from Guatemala northward through Mexico, readers will learn a lot about culture, regional history, geography, and local sights and sounds. Some of the dialog is in Spanish, usually translated in the text; there's also a large glossary of Spanish words used in the book. (The book is also available in a Spanish-language version.) In some scenes, regional language differences -- and the kids' ability to adapt to them -- play a crucial role. Also important: perfecting your language skills and accent by watching a lot of international TV.

  • Positive Messages

    a lot

    Strong messages about courage, family, looking out for your loved ones, and persevering, whatever it takes. Small acts of kindness can make a life-changing difference for both giver and recipient. So can each person's particular skills and talents.

  • Positive Role Models

    a lot

    Jaime and Ángela are brave, determined, and resourceful as they navigate a dystopian world, trying to do the right thing and stay safe. Their strong, loving families, who sell everything and borrow money to fund the kids' desperate journey, never leave their hearts and minds. Even murdered Miguel appears to be helping from the hereafter. As the teens' journey unfolds, they meet many violent, corrupt, and greedy characters, but also many, often in dire straits themselves, who show great kindness.

  • Violence & Scariness


    The story's events are set in motion when a gang murders Ángela's brother Miguel when he refuses to join them. As the teens soon find out, their road is full of people who will kill and rob you, but many of their fellow travelers are fleeing worse. Some characters die, others are badly beaten or injured. Danger is constant.

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  • Sex, Romance & Nudity

    a little

    In a scene where the teens are part of a group of people who strip down to their underwear to swim across a river, Jaime tells a man he catches ogling Ángela to "keep your eyes to yourself, pervert!" One of the reasons the cousins have to leave their village is that if she stays, she'll be forced to be the "girlfriend" of a gang leader. A young traveler disguises herself as a boy because the road's not a safe place for girls traveling alone. Two adult characters joke about one of them having a wife and a mistress.

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  • Language

    a little

    Pee and poop are part of the harsh landscape, where plumbing and other comforts are rare. A villainous character calls the refugees "pissants." Occasional "turd," "goddamn."

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  • Products & Purchases

    very little

    Occasional mention of brand name for characterization or scene-setting, e.g. a gang member in a dirt-poor village brandishing a brand new iPhone and wearing new Nike shoes. Jaime keeps asking his brother in the U.S. if he's met Jennifer Lopez yet.

  • Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

    a little

    Cigarettes are a coveted item for the teens -- more as barter items than for smoking, though some young characters as well as adults smoke. Along the journey they encounter adults and kids intoxicated on liquor or glue, and try to avoid them. Gangs force some kids to carry drugs across the border; many are caught.

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  • Parents Need to Know

    Parents need to know that The Only Road is the story of two teen cousins fleeing a violent gang in their poor Guatemalan village and making the perilous, expensive, illegal journey through Mexico to the United States. Courage, their own talents, the kindness of strangers, and above all the love of friends and family sustain them. But the landscape they traverse is as harrowing as anything dystopian fiction has on offer -- freight trains jammed with desperate people, kids and adults happy to rob and kill you, gangs and immigration officers who treat their victims brutally. Author Alexandra Diaz, who also left her home and loved ones in Cuba when she came to the U.S. as a child, affectingly conveys what it's like when your only chance of survival is to leave everyone you love behind and head into the unknown. There's a lot of harsh reality in this fact-based tale, but also lots of heart.

What's the Story?

After gangs in his small Guatemalan village kill his cousin when he refuses to join them, 14-year-old Jaime and his 15-year-old cousin Ángela know that THE ONLY ROAD to their own survival is the one that leads north through Mexico to the United States. There, they hope to meet Jaime's brother Tomás, who's in a work program in New Mexico. Their families pool all their money and borrow more to pay all the smugglers involved, but as they soon find out, the road is full of deadly danger and they're on their own.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

  • Families can talk about what refugees go through in The Only Road. Thousands of kids worldwide flee their countries to find safety. How would you feel if you suddenly had to leave everyone you knew and loved and face many dangers on your own?

  • In the story, budding artist Jaime's talent for drawing saves the day several times. Do you have any particular skills or talents that you'd put to good use in a tight situation?

  • Do you like to watch TV from other countries? What do you like about it?

As someone deeply immersed in literature that explores the intricacies of immigration, cultural dynamics, and the human condition, I find myself well-versed in the nuances presented in the book "The Only Road" by Alexandra Diaz. Drawing from my extensive knowledge and passion for the subject matter, I can confidently attest to the author's demonstrable expertise in portraying the challenges faced by immigrants, particularly young protagonists like Jaime and Ángela.

In "The Only Road," Diaz, herself an immigrant from Cuba, skillfully navigates the complex terrain of current events, shedding light on the plight of Central Americans seeking refuge in the U.S. The narrative goes beyond a mere exploration of poverty and violence, delving into the cultural, historical, and geographical dimensions of the characters' journey. The use of Spanish dialogues, accompanied by translations and a comprehensive glossary, further enriches the narrative, highlighting the author's commitment to authenticity.

The educational value of the book extends to its exploration of language dynamics, emphasizing the protagonists' adaptability to regional differences and the importance of language skills in their arduous journey. Diaz seamlessly weaves in the role of international TV in language acquisition, emphasizing the multifaceted aspects of the characters' experiences.

Positive messages resonate throughout the narrative, emphasizing themes of courage, family, and the transformative power of small acts of kindness. The portrayal of strong, loving families and positive role models in Jaime and Ángela reinforces the author's intent to convey uplifting messages amid challenging circ*mstances.

Addressing the element of violence and scariness, Diaz masterfully crafts a story rooted in the harsh realities of gangs, danger, and the constant threat of harm. The narrative balances the portrayal of violent characters with instances of kindness from fellow travelers, presenting a nuanced perspective on the characters' journey.

Exploring more sensitive themes such as sex, romance, and nudity, the author tactfully introduces these elements with a focus on the characters' vulnerabilities and the challenges they face. Language, though used sparingly, adds authenticity to the narrative, incorporating elements of the harsh landscape the characters navigate.

In summary, "The Only Road" stands as a testament to Alexandra Diaz's insightful and empathetic storytelling. Through a careful blend of educational value, positive messages, and a realistic portrayal of challenges, the book offers readers a compelling and thought-provoking exploration of the immigrant experience.

The Only Road Book Review (2024)
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