Cover image for Santiago's Road Home
Santiago's Road Home
Physical Description:
336 p. ;
Reading Level:
740 L Lexile


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book XX(488595.2) 0 1

On Order

R.H. Stafford Library (Woodbury)1On Order
Hardwood Creek Library (Forest Lake)1On Order
Park Grove Library (Cottage Grove)1On Order



"With every chapter, readers will be further immersed in Santiago's story as they root for his triumph over injustice." -- Booklist (starred review)
"With unflinching conviction, Diaz sketches a frank, brief account of refugee youth in an uncaring bureaucratic system." -- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Harrowing but deeply illuminating." -- School Library Journal
"Diaz's crucial narrative shines a disconcerting light on the plight of children in US detention centers along the southern border." -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)

A young boy gets detained by ICE while crossing the border from Mexico to the United States in this timely and unflinching novel by award-winning author Alexandra Diaz.

The bed creaks under Santiago's shivering body. They say a person's life flashes by before dying. But it's not his whole life. Just the events that led to this. The important ones, and the ones Santiago would rather forget.

The coins in Santiago's hand are meant for the bus fare back to his abusive abuela 's house. Except he refuses to return; he won't be missed. His future is uncertain until he meets the kind, maternal María Dolores and her young daughter, Alegría, who help Santiago decide what comes next: He will accompany them to el otro lado , the United States of America. They embark with little, just backpacks with water and a bit of food. To travel together will require trust from all parties, and Santiago is used to going it alone. None of the three travelers realizes that the journey through Mexico to the border is just the beginning of their story.

Reviews 4

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5--7--Fleeing his abusive family, 12-year-old Santiago joins a young mother, María Dolores, and her daughter, Alegría, in an attempt to cross the border from Mexico into the United States. The three are near death from exhaustion and dehydration when border agents find and separate them. Santiago spends months in a youth detention facility where he is treated as a "criminal" and given no information about the mother and daughter, whom he has come to think of as his sisters. The prose is straightforward, presenting stark realities with no adornment. Covered with scars from abuse and often starving, Santiago approaches death's door twice, and a teen at the detention center does die. The text includes many italicized Spanish words and phrases, and it acknowledges varying accents and vocabularies among Latin American countries. Back matter includes an afterword, a glossary, and lists of online resources and related books. Santiago is a sympathetic character, and readers get a vivid sense of his experiences and world view, which includes a distrust of police and most adults, as well as a great capacity for caretaking. The book ends with a happy reunion with María Dolores and Alegría, but their asylum cases are pending. They still don't know if they will be allowed to stay in the U.S., and they will always live with the trauma of being separated. VERDICT Vivid details and a sympathetic protagonist make this a harrowing but deeply illuminating portrayal of the struggles faced by families at the U.S.-Mexico border.--Lisa Goldstein, Brooklyn Public Library

Publisher's Weekly Review

Following 12-year-old Santiago, Diaz (The Only Road) gives voice to a young refugee who overcomes tremendous obstacles to cross the border from Mexico into the United States, only to be trapped in a detention center. Forced from his aunt's home, Santiago scrounges for food rather than return to his abusive grandmother. When a woman and her young daughter offer him sustenance and kindness, he asks to accompany them across the border. Sensing that he is trustworthy, they agree. While the book's first half depicts the numerous dangers they survive together, leading up to a harrowing journey across the desert, the second half shares Santiago's disconcerting experiences after being forcibly separated from his companions; crowded into a stark, chilly room with teenage boys; and monitored by unsympathetic guards. While kind staff offer comfort, months of bleak daily existence and an uncertain future undermine Santiago's natural resilience. Basing Santiago's story on well-documented experiences, Diaz's crucial narrative shines a disconcerting light on the plight of children in U.S. detention centers along the southern border. Ages 8--12. Agent: Sarah Davies, Greenhouse Literary. (May)

Kirkus Review

"Everyone is separated." Return to la malvada, or try his luck on his own? For 12-year-old Santiago, going back to his abusive abuela leaves him with no choice at all. At a loss as to his next move, he finds an opportunity when he meets a young mother named María Dolores and her small daughter, Alegría, on their way to el otro lado. For María Dolores, a new life on the other side means fleeing from a troubled past, and Santiago heads with them to El Norte. After a brief stop in a town full of treacherous coyotes and los pollos at their mercy, the three Mexican refugees cross the border and embark on an arduous trek over a barren mountain range, with the desert heat slowly chipping away at their lives. Close to death, the trio falls into the clutches of U.S. immigration officers. Separated from his newfound family, Santi must now navigate life at a youth immigration detention center. It's here that Santiago's story delves into an uncomfortable and bleak modern reality: one where children are held captive at underfunded, psychologically scarring detention centers. With unflinching conviction, Diaz sketches a frank, brief account of refugee youth in an uncaring bureaucratic system, where hope comes in glimpses and family separation becomes the norm. The author's cleareyed, compassionate writing serves as a much-needed wake-up call to readers, perhaps more so than her two previous works, The Only Road (2016) and its sequel, The Crossroads (2018). An urgent mirror for troubling times. (author's note, resources, further reading, glossary) (Fiction. 8-12) Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

This incisive portrayal of an unaccompanied minor's trials will inspire both empathy and righteous anger in young readers. Santiago has been shuffled from relative to relative ever since his mom died when he was five. After his abusive aunt kicks him out, the 12-year-old decides to cross the border, from Mexico into the U.S., in hopes of finding a new life. He meets and bonds with a kind, single mom and her adorable little girl, with whom he joins on the harrowing journey, but when they get separated at the border, he wonders if he will ever be reunited with his newfound family. This is a heartrending tale of survival against the odds--including murderous coyotes, inhumane living conditions at detention centers, and traitorous guards. Diaz follows her Pura Belpré--winning The Only Road (2016) and its sequel with an equally sympathetic narrator searching for family and home. With every chapter, readers will be further immersed in Santiago's story as they root for his triumph over injustice. The characters here are fully realized, and this narrative is one that brings home the reality of what is happening at our borders. Pair with David Bowles' They Call Me Güero for units exploring the southern U.S. border. A must-have for all middle-grade collections.



Chapter 1 CHAPTER 1 Estado de Chihuahua, México Santiago watched Tío Ysidro walk by him and the three toddlers as if they were nothing more than rocks in the yard. Not that the toddlers even looked up from their mud pies at the arrival of their papá . Just as well, or they would have seen an expression like a lightning storm ready to strike on their papá 's face. He jumped to his feet as the front door slammed behind Tío, ready to urge the kids to safety before the storm broke. Except he wasn't quick enough. "What do you mean you got fired?" Tía Roberta's voice came clearly through the closed door. "Have I told you the story of the singing zanate ?" Santiago whispered excitedly as he pointed to a fence post. He whistled at the bird perched on top of the rotting wood, ready to make up a story on the spot. The children--Jesús, Apolo, and Artemisa--who normally loved hearing Santiago's stories, were too interested in their mud projects to pay attention to anything else. Including the shouts from the house. But the mud wasn't enough to keep Santiago from hearing everything. "I mean, you insulted the boss's wife, and now I'm fired," Tío Ysidro shouted back. "When have I met your boss's wife?" The viejita from next door opened her window a bit wider. Since she did not have a TV, her main source of entertainment was eavesdropping on everyone up and down the calle . Santiago would have given anything to be entertained by a TV instead. "Apparently you met her this morning, while she stood in front of you waiting for the bus." "¿Patas flacas?" Tía retorted. "That was her?" "¡Patas flacas!" Artemisa screeched, as if calling someone "skinny legs" was the funniest insult in the world. For a two-and-a-half-year-old, it probably was. "You called her that? To her face?" Tío exclaimed. "She cut in front of me!" Tío Ysidro let out a string of bad words, which Santiago covered up by splashing his hands in the mud and getting the kids to follow suit. Still, Tío's next yell remained completely audible. "How could you say that to her?" A crash like a pot being thrown to the floor erupted from the kitchen. This time, Jesús and Artemisa looked up from the mud. "Great, that was our dinner." Tía Roberta's accusations came out so loud and clear the viejita next door must have been grinning at the great reception. "Unless you want to pick up the rice from the floor, we have nothing else to eat tonight, and we're all going to starve." "How can there be nothing to eat? I gave you money for groceries two days ago." "Yeah, and it's gone. You barely gave me enough for one meal." "Fine. You go look for a job and see how much you earn after working twelve or fifteen hours a day." The door banged open and slammed shut after Tío Ysidro. If Santiago and the toddlers were invisible before, they were nonexistent this time. Tío stepped on a stray shoe one of the kids had taken off and didn't notice it under his foot before he crossed the street in the direction of the local bar. Santiago waited for Tía to run after her husband, but the door stayed shut. A stray curl fell over Apolo's eye. Santiago brushed it away, careful not to get mud from his own hands onto the boy's face. "Too bad these mud pies won't taste as good as they look," he said softly to his charges. "Maybe we'll just need to gobble you guys up instead." He smeared mud on Jesús's bare belly and got a giggle in reply. Apolo and Artemisa wiggled their hands at Santiago and did the butt-bounce dance. He tickled all three of them until they were pushing themselves up on wobbly feet to run away with shrieks of laughter, only to slip and land back in the mud. "Why are my children playing in the mud like some huérfanos ?" Tía Roberta stood in front of them with her hands on her hips and a scowl across her red face. Santiago ignored the orphan comment, like he did most of the insults his tía sent his way. Sure, the kids were dirty, covered from head to diaper in mud, but they were happy, entertained, and safe. A rarity in this house. "It's so hot, I thought they might enjoy it. Don't worry, I'll clean them up." He picked up Artemisa to head to the outdoor water pump, but Tía blocked his path. "You don't have time, the last bus is leaving soon." She reached into her apron pocket and handed him some peso coins, just enough for the bus fare. "We can't afford to keep you anymore. Give your grandmother our regrets." Regrets didn't even begin to explain it. Santiago let the toddler slide down his body, leaving a trail of mud on his own bare chest and pant legs. His hand absently rubbed the burn marks still visible on his arm as he remembered the pain of the cigarettes from his last stay with his grandmother. "But what about the babies? Who'll take care of them?" Santiago spoke without thinking. A shadow darkened Tía's eyes. He jerked his head back, and in that split second her hand missed contact with his cheek. Missing her target only raised Tía's anger. "I'm their mother. You think I can't raise my own hijos ? I got along de lo más bien before you got here." This time Santiago kept his mouth shut. They obviously had a different understanding of "just fine." He remembered the last family wedding, during which the three kids had yelled continuously, been dragged out of the church kicking and screaming, and broken free to shove six greedy hands directly into the wedding cake, all while Tía had cried, swearing to Dios that she couldn't take it anymore. Yes, she got along de lo más bien . It was she , biologically his grandmother but better known in his mind as la malvada , the evil one, who thought up the golden solution: send Santiago to his aunt and uncle's house to take care of the toddlers. Tía (though technically a second cousin, and not Santiago's aunt) had jumped at the idea of having a free babysitter, and la malvada marveled at getting rid of the grandson she despised. Santiago hadn't complained. Honestly, this suited him just fine. Sure, Tía blamed him for everything--the kids getting chicken pox, lice, diaper rash, runny noses, still not talking in full sentences, waking up in the middle of the night, not eating, eating too much--but at the end of the day, it didn't compare to the abuse of living with la malvada . "Please, let me stay." Santiago held out his hand to return the bus fare, but his tía ignored it. "I'll take care of everything tonight; you relax. I'll bathe the kids, feed them--" "There's nothing to eat, idiota ," she reminded him. "What if I get a job?" "What job are you going to get when your uncle has no work?" No answer came to Santiago. No one had work to offer; no one had spare money to pay someone for work. Tía folded her arms across her chest and nodded to the calle . " Lárgate . Unless you want to walk the two hours all the way to your grandmother's house, you better go." Santiago stared at the house that had been his home for the past seven months. In the room he shared with the three kids were clothes too small for him. His one possession, a small pocketknife, had been found in the road. The blade was dull, the scissors didn't open, and the toothpick and tweezers were missing, but it was his. Like all good pocketknives, it remained with him at all times. He washed the mud off his hands and chest at the outdoor pump and pulled on the T-shirt he'd taken off before playing in the mud. Apolo stood up and lifted his arms, expecting to be carried, but Tía stepped in front of her children, blocking them from their babysitter. Artemisa scooped up a particularly gooey handful of mud and flung it at her mother's shoe. Tía didn't notice. Her attention remained on Santiago. Santiago looked into the faces of each of the kids, faces that had worked their way into his heart. He raised his hand in good-bye. "Listen to your mamá , chiquitines ." No longer able to look at them, he turned down the same road his tío had traversed moments before. In perfect synchronicity, the three kids broke into cries. "Tago, Tago, ven ." Jesús called out the nickname he'd made up for his babysitter. Apolo and Artemisa didn't say his name but kept up with the cries. Santiago slowed his pace, waiting for Tía to call him back, to say she would figure something out, just as long as he quieted the kids. But his tía said nothing. Next door, the viejita shut her window. Excerpted from Santiago's Road Home by Alexandra Diaz All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.