Though I have yet to meet Alexandra Diaz in person, she is in a critique group with my dear, dear writing friend, Mary Nethery, so we have a strong bond. I was delighted when Alexandra agreed to visit the blog today to talk about her new middle grade novel, The Only Road (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster), which came out in English this past week. The Spanish edition release is December 6 2016. Welcome, Alexandra!

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Alexandra Diaz/photo credit Owen Benson

Imagine being twelve years old and being given the ultimatum: “Join our murderous drug gang, or die.” And perhaps worse than that, is having your parents say that for your safety you have to leave them and your home, forever.

This is exactly what happens to Jaime Rivera and his cousin Ángela from Guatemala in The Only Road. But more importantly, this is something that happens every day to thousands of real Central American children. In recent years, there has been a huge wave of unaccompanied children entering or attempting to enter the United States, most of whom are escaping recruitment from the violent gangs that are taking over their regions.

While there are many novels on immigration, there are few children’s books that focus primarily on the dangers of the journey through Mexico and what it takes to get across the border into the U.S. As a result of all these unaccompanied children, my editor saw a need for a novel that deals with specifically that and as the daughter of Cuban refugees, I was asked to write such a novel.

For almost a year, I dived into the world of Jaime and what his journey would have been like, who he would meet, (and whether it was realistic for a dog to join the journey too…) while at the same time knowing I had to keep the story suitable for 8-12 year olds. The horrors I read about—people being butchered by gangs or mutilated by trains, women and effeminate men being gang raped while their loved ones were forced to watch, or half dead people being left to rot in the jungle or desert—would have been banned from ever being published in a children’s book. But still, I wanted young readers to be aware of the hardships and risks that people (adults and children) go through in order to seek a better life. What is it like to feel responsible for someone’s death? To be trapped in a suffocating train with no means to escape? To lose someone you care about? These events happen to Jaime, but more importantly happen to people who are not strangers in far off countries, but classmates and the parents of classmates present at most U.S. schools today.

Between the dangers my characters face, I also chose to show moments of kindness and friendship, moments that bring them hope and restore faith in humanity. (And yes, the dog stayed!)

Hopefully this novel will bring laughter and tears, but mostly awareness to the global immigration situation of today.

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Alexandra Diaz is the author of the young adult novels Of All the Stupid Things, an ALA Rainbow List book, and the forthcoming Good Girls Don’t Lie. The Only Road is her first novel for 8-12 year olds which she and her mother have translated into Spanish (release date December 6th, 2016). Besides writing (or thinking about writing), Alexandra can be found teaching creative writing and circus arts, eating ice cream, and practicing sloppy cartwheels on green grass.