by Yvonne Su
Written as a part of our Tiny Review Series
Efrén Divided is a book for young readers, written by a Santa Ana, CA teacher named Ernesto Cisneros. Efrén is a US citizen, but his parents are undocumented. Cisneros captures what kids like Efrén experience at home and at school when their parents’ safety and status are in jeopardy. Efrén’s life is divided in every sense, as he tries his hardest to manage homework, take care of his twin siblings, and help his dad bring his mom home. Of course, no seventh-grader is capable of replacing a mother, but when his Amá is deported, Efrén has no choice but to step up and become his own Soperboy.
In social studies, kids learn about the circles that radiate from oneself: family, school, city, state, country, and world. Through this lens, with Efrén at the center, the book shows one way a child in a mixed-status family relates to his community. Efrén’s friendship with David, the one white kid in the neighborhood, stands out. At first, it seemed that David might be an antagonist, but Cisneros gave us background into David’s life and the reader learns that David also struggles. In fact, he envies Efrén for having parents who love him. He feels betrayed when Efrén runs for ASB president against him, but David eventually supports his friend and recognizes that while he’s running to prove himself, Efrén is running for kids who are at risk due to immigration.
The question becomes: How do we understand and support each other when our struggles are so different? Cisneros doesn’t give the reader any false, neat resolutions. Efrén realizes that sometimes being Soperboy requires more than he can give. In fact, political problems are so enormous that he nearly gives up running for president at school. Adult readers will recognize Efrén’s apathy and desire to disengage from politics. After all, it has not served him well, at the school or the national level.
The most successful part of the book is the honest look at how kids deal with problems, which is imperfectly. But at the same time that Cisneros shows us shortcomings, he also shows us hope. Not being able to get his mother back or become ASB president doesn’t mean that Efrén failed — it means that a lot of people are trying to bury kids like him. The strength comes in choosing to push through the dirt instead of staying buried.
Family reunification is a complex problem with so many political actors on every level that people at the heart of it — parents and children who are forcibly separated — get drowned out. But what does life really look like for kids on this side of the border, when they lose one or both of their parents? Readers don’t often get to hear from children whose parents have been deported. That is what makes Efrén Divided an essential book, for children in Efrén’s situation and for their peers who are not in jeopardy. It’s a book about seeing each other despite the walls being built.
Yvonne Su is a former elementary teacher. She also writes for Mochi Magazine. She lives in Irvine, California.