Monday, March 7, 2011

Review: Illegal by Bettina Restrepo

Illegal by Bettina Restrepo

A promise.
A promise that we would be together on my fifteenth birthday . . .

Instead, Nora is on a desperate journey far away from home. When her father leaves their beloved Mexico in search of work, Nora stays behind. She fights to make sense of her loss while living in poverty—waiting for her father's return and a better day. When the letters and money stop coming, Nora decides that she and her mother must look for him in Texas. After a frightening experience crossing the border, the two are all alone in a strange place. Now, Nora must find the strength to survive while aching for small comforts: friends, a new school, and her precious quinceaƱera.

Bettina Restrepo's gripping, deeply hopeful debut novel captures the challenges of one girl's unique yet universal immigrant experience.


Illegal is the first novel I have ever read about illegal immigration and it was a poignant and heartbreaking debut.

Fourteen year old Nora and her mother and grandmother are struggling to make ends meet after her father leaves for the United States to try and earn money for his family since their farm is not doing well. Nora's family is barely staying afloat as they wait each day for some money, a letter, something, to arrive from Nora's father. Unfortunately, at one point, the cash and letters stop coming and Nora knows her family will not be able to survive without them. Nora makes the daring decision to leave Mexico and go to Texas to find her father and bring him home. He promised her he'd be back by her fifteenth birthday and Nora intends for him to keep his promise whether she has to go across the border and bring him home herself. Nora and her mother hide in the back of a fruit truck to be snuck across the border between Mexico and Texas. The journey is arduous and Nora and her mother are frightened and in pain; hidden behind the mango crates with no air. They make it into Texas, though, but their terrifying journey has only just begun.

There are many different view points of immigration (both legal and illegal) and Bettina Restrepo presented illegal immigration in a new and emotional light. Nora's plight was heartbreaking, yet hopeful, and my heart went out to her as she struggled to support both herself and her mother and find her father in a new land.

Nora was a determined and realistic main character and she was faced with many hardships for someone barely in their teens. She was forced to forget about the typical wants and needs of a fourteen year old girl and take on the role of an adult. Finding work and shelter, but at the same time facing gangs, violence, poverty, and staying out of the watchful eye of immigration.

Bettina Restrepo crafted a gritty and painful story with hope shining through. This was a quick read, but it left me feeling quite emotional by the time I turned the last page. Overall, I recommend picking Illegal up this year as it's a well written and touching story that presented illegal immigration in a new way. I'm looking forward to seeing what Bettina writes next.

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

March 8, 2011/Katherine Tegen Books/258 Pages/Young Adult

Source: Author (ARC Tour)


  1. This was definitely an emotional book! I hope Bettina publishes more soon heh~~

  2. I read the online extract of this and really loved it- can't wait until it's out in the UK!

  3. I can't wait to read this one. Happy to meet her at TLA in April....thanks for the review.


  4. *** blushes and beams***

    Thank you everyone!

    As to UK sales - not yet, but there is always The Book Depository!

    as for TLA - its going to be be SO. MUCH. FUN!

    Sniffly - I'm writing as fast as I can!

  5. Ooh, this one sounds fantastic! The premise sounds great- illegal immigration is a unique topic, in my opinion. I also love the sound of Nora, as I always love MCs that are determined and strong.


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