Into the Beautiful North

by Luis Alberto Urrea
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Into the Beautiful North is a story about Nayeli, a brave teenage girl from a Mexican town called Tres Camarones. During her childhood, her father, just like the majority of the other able-bodied men in her village, left for the United States in search of a better life. In fact, there were hardly any men in Tres Camarones.

The departure of the men left the village vulnerable to a takeover by the Bandidos, a drug-dealing outfit. However, during the filming of The Magnificent Seven at the festival, Nayeli and her three friends are inspired to travel to the United States with a mission to recruit and bring back seven great fighters who will liberate their hometown from the Bandidos threat. Nayeli also hopes to search for her father during the trip.

The four, under the sponsorship of Irma, Nayeli’s aunt and the first female Municipal President of Tres Camarones, set off on their adventurous journey. Irma joins them later on, and they succeed at assembling an army which goes back to Mexico.  To Nayeli’s disappointment, she discovers her father has not only married another woman, but also has children.

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This book is about the heroine, Nayeli, who is nineteen and works hard making tacos in her village in Mexico called Tres Camarones. Nayeli constantly thinks about her dad who fled to the United States to find work. This presents an extra problem because almost all of the men in her village have left, making the village fodder for the bandidos who desire to take it over.

It is not long before Nayeli decides to recruit men to repopulate the village in a group she calls her “Siete Magnificos.” Nayeli sets out with Yolo, Vampi and Tacho after getting some financial encouragement from Nayeli’s aunt (who just happens to be the mayor of Tres Camarones). The meat of the book is about their adventures: losing their belongings, meeting Atomiko (a garbage sifter), crossing the border, encountering missionaries, and entering a working camp for migrants. The description in the setting is an incredible testament to the author’s craft:

The sky peeled back for a moment, and a weak ray of sunset spilled over the scene like the diseased eye of some forgetful god -- the light bearing with it cold in place of heat.

The setting almost becomes a character itself as the same aunt, Tia Irma, who helped the friends out with some money, ends up traveling north to San Diego to check on the friends.   The group eventually separates to see if Nayeli’s father can be found in Illinois. Unfortunately for Nayeli, her father has gone north and found an entirely new family, leaving her Mexican family behind, completely forgotten. Nayeli is distraught to the core and leaves her dad without even talking with him.

In conclusion, Tia Irma takes matters into her own hands by rounding up almost thirty men to fight for Tres Camarones back in Mexico. The book ends before the “battle” with the bandidos, though. It has an abrupt ending (complementing the author’s style) when a small child watches atop a roof in Tres Camarones and sees Nayeli approaching with her group of men willing to fight for her village.

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