Book Lists and Reviews

Books Lists and Awards for Bettina Restrepo

Illegal is on the following book lists:

– the 2012 Tayshas High School reading list.

– YALSA’s Quick Picks for relunctant Readers list, 2011.

– The Amelia Bloomer List for outstand feminist literature for young readers, 2011.

– noted as one of the top ten debut author books in Booklist magazine. (October 15, 2011)

The following are the generous reviews of my novel, Illegal.

With depth and detail…Never sentimental.  The unsparing language keeps the tension mounting as well as the heartache…  The teen’s first person narrative will grab readers with gritty details, honest anger and sorrow and the small acts of kindness that occur through the harrowing adventure.” Booklist – Starred Review.

“Bettina Restrepo’s first novel is a vivid and unsparing look at the life of an illegal teenage girl who comes from the US from Mexico in search of her father.  Faith, family, and friendship are all features of this unforgettable individual life, which is emblematic of so many others that are too seldom examined in novels for teens.  An important novel that deserves a wide readership.
–Michael Cart, Author of Young Adult Literature: From Romance to Realism and editor of the Rush Hour and How Beautiful The Ordinary: Twelve Stories Of Identity.  He is also the Chair of the Printz Award committee from the American Library Association.

Illegal is a compelling read with a tightly woven plot and great attention to detail; even the red lipstick and gold cross at the end bring the story full circle – back to the beginning but with promise for the future.  Throughout the book, the importance of family and faith  coupled with a strong  work ethic and the struggle to survive underscores some basic values of many Hispanics and pinpoints the irony of our current immigration dilemma in this country. The multiple themes running through the story allow it to be read on several levels; some readers will be happy just following the plot, but others will see the book as a coming of age and survival tale. Political, family, and religious elements are all strong without being pedantic.  Restrepo’s strong use of symbolism, especially when tied to Catholicism, also adds an important dimension to the story. I don’t know how many twelve year old readers will look beyond the roses, both in blood and in icing, or Mr. Mann, the nobody who “matters,” but for those who do see the deeper meanings, this story will be one that has a real impact on them. For the rest, it will still be a “good read.”  In my library, this one gets five stars.” –Pauletta Augustina, Librarian and Teacher in Peoria, AZ

“This is a bittersweet story of a young woman courageously facing a future so far removed from what she expected that it cannot even be considered the same world.  At fourteen, Nora grapples in a very big way with her faith, her identity and her place in the family.  When her father stops sending money from America to help save their struggling orchard in Cedula, Mexico, she insists that she and her mother smuggle themselves into the country to find him and bring him back.  After spending ten hours in the back of a mango truck with no air or water, they are greeted, not with the expected land of plenty, but with hardships, gangs and possibly more problems than they had at home.  The truth is finally revealed that her father is dead and Nora must find a way to reinvent her dreams or die with him.  Thoroughly engaging and thought-provoking, this novel should be recommended to anyone looking for a human interest story.  Illegal would be an excellent choice for a book discussion group or a class conversation starter about immigration, prejudice, or gangs, and will be particularly of interest in areas where immigration is a common issue.” —Angie Hammond, VOYA (4 out of 5 for quality and popularity

“When Nora’s dad left their small Mexican town, Cedula, to make money for the family in the United States, he promised to be back for her 15th birthday quinceañera celebration. Now three years later, Cedula, without “even a stinking drug dealer in this town to spread the cash around,” has closed its schools, families are moving away and 14-year-old Nora worries her father won’t return in time. When his money stops arriving, her family risks losing its land and she hears a voice telling her to flee, Nora convinces her mother to use their savings to be smuggled across the border to look for him. With searing realism, debut author Restrepo describes Nora’s anger, desperation and loss of faith when she and her mother arrive, barely alive in the back of a fruit truck, in Houston to a barrio that’s characterized by racial division, gangs, violence and filthy living conditions. Giving up her dreams about her father’s promise and American prosperity, Nora simply wants to find the truth and survive in her foreign surroundings. Newfound friends, struggling with their own poverty and gang threats, and community, made up of all kinds of outsiders, combine with her own indomitable spirit to give her the courage to fight to belong. This memorable coming-of-age story will awaken readers to the overlooked struggles of immigrants.” —Kirkus Reviews