This year's selection by Luis Alberto Urrea is a quest novel in the grand tradition, though there are no medieval knights, magic rings, or light sabers within its pages.
Nayeli, an energetic and idealistic girl of nineteen, is coming of age in a Mexican village, more than 1,000 miles from the border. She lives in Tres Camarones (Three Shrimps), a village where folks like things to stay the same. But change is coming fast. Nearly all of the men of the village, including Nayeli's father, have gone north to the U.S. to find work, and drug-dealing thugs have recently begun to target the village.
One night, Nayeli and her friends attend a screening of John Sturges's classic film, The Magnificent Seven. Inspired, Nayeli vows to go on a mission to the U.S. to bring back seven men - including her father - to defend Tres Camerones. She persuades her loyal band of friends to accompany her on the dangerous journey, and the quest begins.
Lacking influence, money or power, Nayeli and her friends employ ingenuity, youthfulness, and hope to overcome obstacles, suggesting that a new generation can bring new solutions to old problems. Urrea cleverly subverts cultural stereotypes and literary traditions, creating a fresh approach to the classic hero's journey.
The public is invited to pick up a free copy of Into the Beautiful North during the NEA Big Read in Irving starting September 18.
Growing up in Tijuana and San Diego with an American mother and Mexican father, Luis Alberto Urrea was familiar with the complex realities of the U.S. - Mexico border from an early age.
The dualism in her personal history is reflected in a prolific and celebrated literary career. Urrea writes stories that portray reality on both sides of the border, creating humanizing portraits of immigrants as well as their adversaries. His work transcends media stereotypes and contemporary immigration disputes, revealing the border as a place of connection as well as divide.
The author of 14 books, Luis Alberto Urrea is one of the most prolific and important chroniclers of immigration and border culture of our time. He creates a portrait of the border rarely seen by most Americans, and his ability to inject humanity and complexity into the difficult subjects of immigration, border politics, and economic struggle is one of his greatest achievements.
The public is invited to meet Luis Alberto Urrea when he visits the Irving Arts Center, October 5 at 7 p.m.
In Search of Snow, 1999
The Hummingbird's Daughter, 2005
Into the Beautiful North, 2009
Queen of America, 2011
Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border, 1993
By the Lake of Sleeping Children, 1006
The Devil's Highway, 2004
The Fever of Being, 1994
Ghost Sickness, 1997
Explore themes of Into the Beautiful North, its historical context, book discussion questions and author Luis Alberto Urrea by visiting the online Reader's Guide located on the NEA Big Read's web site.