The First Meeting
Manny Bustos is a fourteen-year-old orphan who lives on the streets of the border town of Juarez, Mexico. Just across the bridge is the city of El Paso, Texas—a short distance, but a world away. Below the bridge is a "muddy trickle" of water, all that remains of the once proud Rio Grande. On any given day, beneath the bridge, packs of hungry children begging for money cry out to the tourists who are crossing above. Oftentimes, the tourists will toss coins down to them and laugh to see the urchins fight over their cynical offerings. Manny hates working under the bridge; he is much smaller than most of the other street kids, and generally does not fare well in the desperate competition. Soon, however, he will not have to worry about any of this. The fact that he is young and small will no longer matter, because he has strength, speed, and a willingness to work hard. From all that he has heard, that is "all that is needed" on the other side, and he has resolved to attempt the crossing tonight.
Robert S. Locke is "above all things, a sergeant." Outwardly, his bearing is impeccable. He stands with his back "ramrod straight...[he has] graying...hair and a straight mouth...steel blue eyes...a uniform...incredibly neat and sharp and true." Robert is the epitome of a soldier, but his outer image reveals nothing of his tormented soul. Unseen scars cover his mind and thoughts, and he must constantly drink to alleviate the pain caused by these wounds. Stationed in El Paso, Robert performs his obligations as a soldier flawlessly, but each night that he is not on duty, he crosses the bridge to Juarez, where he drinks "evenly and professionally" to anesthetize his brain. If he does not do this, "all of his friends from all the [past] battles [will] come...to visit," and, professional though he is, he cannot stand that.
On this particular night, Robert goes to the Club Congo Tiki, a place he frequents because it is "incredibly ugly and in such poor taste that it [is] almost not real to him." Fittingly, the Congo Tiki helps him to leave the real world behind and allows him to sojourn in a place of dreams where his "old friends" cannot come to call. It is Robert's habit to sit at a table in the back corner of the establishment, and to drink methodically, until he is in such a fog that he is "blind...[to] all other things."
Out on the streets, Manny crouches in the...
(The entire section is 2420 words.)
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The Crossing, like many of Paulsen's novels for young adults, pairs a teenage protagonist with an older adult. The chance meeting of Manny Bustos and Sergeant Robert S. Locke in the border town of Juarez, Mexico, changes both lives in ways dramatic and not immediately predictable.
Manny Bustos—smallish, underfed —survives on the streets of Juarez. His existence is meager, a constant struggle in a world where brute strength leads frequently to brutality. Bigger boys and men prey on Manny, filling his already dire days with fear. Despite the adversity, Manny dreams of a better life in the United States. He will cross the border; soon his every action aims at reaching this goal.
Sergeant Robert S. Locke is a veteran of the Vietnam War. Stationed in El Paso, Texas, he crosses the border freely, and often, to drink in places where there is "noise and women and cheap whiskey." Locke seeks escape, through alcohol, from the cries of dead friends and haunting recollections of Vietnam. His drinking is methodical, sterile, and utterly joyless. The sergeant and Manny meet three times: once when Manny tries to pick Robert's pocket and is allowed to go free; once when, pulled together by inner compulsions they cannot identify, they spend a day in each other's company; and finally, on the border itself when the ultimate answer to their dilemma presents itself and, in his own way, each goes free. During the day in which Manny attaches himself to...
(The entire section is 336 words.)