Into the Beautiful North is one of my favorite books from the last school year. It was on the 2010 Rainbow List, which is where I first heard about it, and was nominated for the 2010 Alex Award list. It also came up when I was looking for Latino novels for a class.
I'll tell you about the book using the question prompts from the School Library Journal I wrote about earlier:
Into the Beautiful North features a cast of eccentric characters, including a couple who live in a Tijuana dump, a young American missionary worker, and a burned-out immigration officer, but the central story follows four friends who travel from their tiny village in southern Mexico to the United States (the "Beautiful North" of the title). Having realized that all their men, her father included, have abandoned their village to go north for work, 19-year-old waitress Nayeli, with Tacho, Vampi ("la Vampira," the only goth girl in town), and Yolo, sets out on a quest. The plan is to find seven worthy Mexican men in Los Yunaites, and smuggle them back across the border to reclaim Tres Camarones from drug bandits. We meet all the main characters before page 25, and the plot moves steadily along throughout the book. They meet many colorful characters along the way, the good ones more fleshed out than the bad, but not so many that your head begins to spin.
The novel reads almost like a fable, but never quite crosses the line into the mystical. The telling style is low-key, with wonderful dry humour (or maybe it's just me that thinks a wildly boastful dump warrior with a deadly staff and a Hello Kitty backpack is hilarious?), some sad bits and some wacky bits (but they could happen). There are surprises and disappointments, for the characters and for the reader.
What I like most about this book is the characters (including some amazing women), and how the good guys ultimately triumph through inner strength and the kindness of strangers.
There are other themes along the way, of race, discrimination, poverty, hope & dreams, the differences between north and south of the US-Mexico border. The Rainbow List included the book because of Tacho, gay taco shop proprietor and Nayeli's boss, a steadying influence who experiences his own epiphanies during the journey.
Read this book! I recommend it to everyone in high school and older, male and female. Rejoice in the inspiration of the noble quest, and proudly proclaim "I am Atómiko!"