Cat's Reviews > Into the Beautiful North

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea
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's review
Feb 14, 2012

liked it
Read from February 24 to March 04, 2012

I am excited that this writer is coming to campus in just a few weeks. I think I maybe should have started with his better-known The Hummingbird's Daughter; this novel was enjoyable but not stunning, and I was hoping for more. Urrea's writing is often engaging and vivid; his depictions of life on the border in garbage dumps and slums are convincing and understated, and his descriptions of the natural scenery in Colorado and the middle of the country are lovely and transporting. The quest narrative that framed this novel seemed a little silly (teenage Nayeli and three of her friends travel illegally to the United States to retrieve men to protect their village now that the men of the town have all immigrated for work), and even the disillusionment that came at the end seemed a bit pat. It was when the friends came close to real danger that this book felt the most real. Otherwise, it was contained in the comfort of home, family, and extended community, which was warm and fuzzy but also made this reader feel a bit inoculated from the contamination of the real world, in spite of the constant racism articulated in the book by characters the friends meet on the road. (Some of that also felt a bit pat: the friends see news footage of Arizona law enforcement, and they have a prolonged fight with skinheads named--perhaps overly appropriately--Sully and Jimbo.) That may be Urrea's point--to gesture at a world as dangerous as the one described in Winter's Bone but to protect his plucky characters from full immersion in it. I kept feeling like this book would make a great movie and almost as though the novel itself was a summary of a movie. (The latter feeling is not one you really want to have when hoping to get lost in a novel.) I'm glad I read it, but I'm not sure it will stick with me very long. Hopefully, I'll get to see Urrea in person, and I'll have a better sense of the other examples from his work I'd like to explore.

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