This post contains affiliate links. My Side of the River by Elizabeth Camarillo Gutierrez was one of the books I was most excited to read this year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as good as I had hoped.

My Side of the River by Elizabeth Camarillo Book Cover

About My Side of the River by Elizabeth Camarillo Gutierrez

Gutierrez is born in the United States to Mexican citizens who are in the States on a travel visa. Later, her brother is also born in the U.S.

Gutierrez grows up poor and watches her parents work hard to provide for their family. Her mother cleans a movie theater every night, and later, when the work is too much for her, her husband joins her in the nighttime cleaning after he’s worked all day. Often Gutierrez accompanies them and sleeps in the theater while they work.

She lives with her parents in a trailer with her paternal uncle and aunt and their kids. There, she regularly watches her uncle abuse her aunt and deny that one of her cousins has autism.

Through all the chaos, her mother urges her to “be the best,” which she takes to heart. She excels at school and finds refuge from her chaotic life in learning.

When she’s 14 and her brother 7, her parents go back to Mexico to renew their travel visa, something they’ve done without incident several times before. However, the atmosphere against immigrants has become more charged since the last time they returned home. This time, their visas were denied not once but twice. Gutierrez is alone in the United States with her seven-year-old brother.

What follows is an even more chaotic, heartbreaking period for her.

My Thoughts on the Book

Because we lived in Tucson for eight years, I was familiar with the environment and places that Gutierrez wrote about. That knowledge brought the story to life for me.

However, while I enjoyed the beginning of the story when she was young, something changed in the story telling when she reached her late teens. Gutierrez felt more calculated and emotionless. The story started to read more like a laundry list–an emotionless retell–this is what happened to me, and then this, and then this.

She spoke openly about avoiding her parents calls when they were in Mexico and unable to see her. She described her teenage brother as too emotional because he cried. When she left one job, she didn’t even let her coworkers know. She simply left. This emotional coldness kept me at bay as a reader, so I had trouble sympathizing with her or even relating to most of her story.

I give My Side of the River by Elizabeth Camarillo Gutierrez 3 out of 5 stars on the Mom’s Plans’ scale.

For more books on the immigration issue, consider reading Undocumented by Dan-el Padilla Peralta:

Or, for young adult readers, Crossing the Wire:

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