This book deals with an issue of growing concern in the desert Southwest: immigration and the confinement of unaccompanied minors by ICE and Border Patrol.
We rarely have a visceral reaction to characters in books, but this story contains an exception. My daughter read it first and warned me that when I got to the part about Lilith to "brace yourself." She's genuinely one of the worst MG characters I've come across in a long time. Her actions are horrible for one so young, no matter her tragic backstory. But without her, the book wouldn't shine quite as much as it does.
The book has two major threads: one deals with the Days of the Dead, as the cover implies, and the primarily Catholic injunction against burying people who commit suicide on consecrated ground. The second shines a light on immigration and how our current administration handles unaccompanied minors by locking them up.
The story takes place in the days before Halloween and Dia de los Muertos. The main character, Glorieta, tries to get her Tia Diosonita to accept her mother's ashes into the family grave plot. Tia Diosonita is dead-set against it, as Glorieta's mom committed suicide.
As Glorieta plans to approach her Tia, her step-mother's two children, Lilith and her little brother, Angus, show up on the doorstep of their trailer. Their father, a TV reality star, dumps them off with Glorieta's step-mom, and the girls have to share a room.
Lilith follows in her father's despicable footsteps by observing Glorieta and finding out what will hurt her the most -- namely making Glorieta's best (but extremely poor) friend go hungry. Then, when la migra raid the trailer park where they live, Lilith acts truly inexcusably -- she insists Glorieta is an illegal immigrant. ICE officers take her from her home when her step-mother can't find the documents that prove she's a citizen.
Glorieta is locked up overnight in an overcrowded cell, given a mylar square to sleep on the floor, and a cereal bar for breakfast. Finally her Tia calls an immigration attorney and her father brings her Social Security card and birth certificate as proof of citizenship and she is freed.
I won't spoil how Glorieta gets her mother into the graveyard, and her Tia Diosonita to accept it, just know there were plenty of tears as we read.
There is an awesome free teaching guide to accompany this text. It deals specifically with issues of injustice, Mexican-American identity and more. It has chapter-by-chapter comprehension questions and creative writing extensions, a glossary of terms, and a set of overall questions for further discussion, analysis and writing.