Beast Rider by Tony Johnson

Beast Rider offers a sympathetic take on the immigration issue through the experience of one Mexican boy.

Beast Rider by Tony
Johnson and Maria de Rhodes.  Amulet,
2019, 171 pages

Reading Level: Middle
Grades, 10-12

Recommended for:
ages 12-15

Manuel Flores and his family
have worked their milpita (small farm
plot) in Oaxaca, Mexico, for generations. 
It’s a spare life, but a good one—with, however, two great gaps.  One is Manuel’s mother, who died when he was
very young.  The other is Toño, who
hopped aboard a freight four years ago and made his way to Los Angeles.  La
Bestia, the train that carried Toño away, is now calling to Manuel.  He knows the dangers: bandits, police and
border patrol, and the ruthlessness of the Beast itself, which could cut you in
pieces if you fall off.  But he longs for
his brother and determines to take the chance. 
With a new pair of shoes, his father’s old sweater, and a handful of
pesitos he heads for the tracks.

The dangers are not
exaggerated. He’s robbed of food and money immediately, his shoes and sweater
soon after—but the worst is yet to come when he’s beaten within an inch of his
life by a drug gang.  Kind villagers
along the way save his life and fortunes, but with recoup and recovery the
journey takes almost two years.  Finally
he limps into L.A., with an injured hand and pure-white hair—Chavo Viejo, the old kid.  Has he found the Promised Land?

The prose is simple yet
beautiful, the experiences heart-wrenching yet not too much to bear—and
leavened by grace:

I realize in a moment how much goodness has been woven into my story.  I think from now on I will try to forget the bad.  Papí would say that, like the [corn], good reaches for the light.  I decide.  I also will reach for the light.

With immigrants pressing on
the southern border in growing numbers, with not enough officials to process
them and not enough facilities to house them, with no real leadership from the
White House or Congress, Beast Rider
at least brings the problem down to a human level.  Manuel Flores, unlike many refugees, is not
fleeing but seeking: his true family, his true home.  His conclusion may surprise readers, but
should also encourage them.  The problems
are not insolvable, with compassion, good will, and a reasonable policy.

Violence and disturbing scenes

Overall Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

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