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Reviewed by Vera Pereskokova 

Desperate for a better life for his family, Hector hires a coyote – a name for individuals who smuggle people across the border – to take him from his home in Puerto Isadore near Oaxaca, Mexico to the United States. He leaves behind his young wife, Lilia, and their infant daughter, Alejandra, promising to send for them once he settles in and earns enough money to pay for their crossing.

Hector’s journey to “El Norte” is harrowing. He is locked in a tiny dark compartment below a truck carrying toys to the U.S. with many others. They have no sense of the time of day, or the day of the week or the direction they’re going, but share one hope – to make it safely to the other side. Along the way, Hector befriends a fellow countryman, Miguel, and the two make their way to Edisto Island, South Carolina, where Miguel’s cousin takes them in and helps them secure jobs.

Back in Puerto Isadore, impatient Lilia ignores her husband’s pleas to wait for safe transport, and accepts an ex-suitor’s offer to pay for her crossing. The man’s uncle is a coyote that agrees to take Lilia and Alejandra across, with less than honorable intentions. Before swimming across the Rio Grande, Lilia hands off Alejandra to a woman-smuggler who specializes in getting infants into the U.S. It is a desperate act with disastrous consequences.

I’ve never read anything – fiction or otherwise – on the subject of illegal crossings from Mexico to the U.S., and Michel Stone’s take on the issue made me really think about the circumstances that would drive someone to undertake such a dangerous journey. The Iguana Tree is compellingly and beautifully written; I kept turning pages to find out what would happen to Hector and Lilia, terrified at their situation. I could not imagine handing off my child to a stranger, but also understood that Lilia felt that she did not have a choice.

The Iguana Tree is a fictional story of one family making difficult choices in pursuit of a life in the Land of Opportunity, but I am sure it will ring true for many real life families who have made similar decisions. It is an amazing, but profoundly sad tale of the lengths people go to for love, for family, and for a chance at a better future.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by Hub City Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.
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