In his impressive debut, The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches From the Border, Francisco Cantú tells two stories—the first about the author’s life as a U.S. border patrol agent in the Southwest, and the second about his return to civilian life and the unexpected friendship he forges with an undocumented immigrant whose family is shattered by deportation. The highly charged politics around immigration are a quiet backdrop to the more profound human questions Cantú explores: how, as the grandson of a Mexican immigrant, he manages to remain dispassionate while he rounds up men, women, and children attempting to cross the border, along with drug runners and smugglers, and then how he can’t escape his own anguish when he begins to reckon with his complicity in a system he realizes is brutal and unjust. Woven throughout are recurring dreams and nightmares, replete with animal metaphors, which add even more edge to his powerful tale. An important book for these times.
With all of the static across our country and in Washington about immigration, refugees, and the place of “newcomers” in our society, there is no more relevant nor more timely book right now than this. Thorpe spent a year at South High School in Denver in a class designated for “newcomers” – children who have arrived in the United States as refugees, usually from conflict or war zones, often having had serious lapses in schooling, and with virtually no resources. Her year-long immersion in the lives of the students, their families, and the teachers and school administrators produced a rich chronicle of how children work to adapt to a new place, culture, and system. As with her two previous books about people in transition, Thorpe tells this story with insight, compassion, and urgency. A must read as the immigration debate rages on in our country.
Amy Goldstein, a longtime Washington Post reporter, takes a deep dive into the community of Janesville, Wisconsin, describing in gripping and revealing detail what happens when economic disaster strikes a town. In the case of Janesville, it was the closing in late 2008 of what had been the oldest operating General Motors plant in the country. While Janesville: An American Story (Simon & Schuster, $27) is set in a single community, it also explores the larger realities of how Americans are trying to cope with job losses and financial hardships. It examines the shortfalls of re-training programs, the limitations of social services, and the political divisions and partisan rancor that can pull even the most established communities apart. These damaging effects aren’t always simple to trace or explain. But the power and disturbing impact of Goldstein’s book comes in its refusal to be satisfied with simplifications