37 pages 1 hour read

Reyna Grande

Across A Hundred Mountains

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2006

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Summary and Study Guide


Across a Hundred Mountains is a 2006 novel by Reyna Grande. It won the American Book Award. The novel tells the story of two women, Adelina and Juana. Every few pages, the novel alternates between each woman’s story. Adelina is an adult working at a woman’s shelter in Los Angeles and has devoted her life to searching for her father, who went missing many years ago. At the beginning of the novel, Adelina finally finds her father’s body in Mexico, near the border between Mexico and the United States; he is still holding the white rosary he left home with. Adelina’s mother is dying in a village in Mexico, and Adelina is determined to bring her father’s ashes back to her mother. She begins her long journey from Los Angeles to that small Mexican village.

Juana is an 11-year-old girl living in a small village in Mexico at the opening of her story. One night, Juana’s father, Apá, is late returning home from work. It is raining hard and the family’s shack begins to flood. Juana’s mother, Amá, tells Juana to hold her baby sister, Anita, while Amá goes to search for Apá. But Juana falls asleep, causing Anita to drown in the flood. After Anita’s funeral, Apá tells Juana that he is going to cross the border into the United States, in order to find work, and will return home soon to build a better house for Juana and Amá. However, Apá doesn’t return, and many people in the village speculate that Apá has abandoned his family.

About a month later, Don Elías, a debt collector, comes after Amá for the debt she owes. When Amá can’t pay back the debt, Don Elías forces Amá to exchange sex for repayment of her debt. Amá becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son eight months later, whom she names Miguel, after Apá. Amá believes the baby is Apá’s, but Don Elías is sure the baby is his. Don Elías and his wife, Doña Matilde, who cannot have children of her own, kidnap the baby and rename him José Alberto. Grieving the loss of her children and husband, Amá becomes an alcoholic. On the day of José Alberto’s baptism, Amá shows up at the church and stabs Don Elías, killing him. Amá is arrested and thrown into prison. Around this time, Juana decides to go searching for her father. Juana travels by train and by bus for several days, finally arriving in Tijuana, near the United States border. Her first night in Tijuana, Juana is sleeping on the streets when she is accused of theft. She is arrested and thrown in jail, where she meets a prostitute named Adelina. Adelina tells Juana that she ran away from her home in the United States three years earlier with her boyfriend. Adelina invites Juana to stay at the apartment where she lives and promises to help Juana speak to the coyotes, the men who help people cross the border illegally, to find out if any of them knew Apá. In order to get close to the coyotes, Juana must work as a prostitute, but she isn’t able to find out anything about her father. One night, Adelina is killed by her abusive boyfriend. Juana steals Adelina’s American birth certificate and uses it to travel to Los Angeles under the name Adelina Vasquez. The reader now understands that Juana has assumed Adelina’s identity.

In Los Angeles, Adelina rents a room in the apartment building of a man named Don Ernesto. Don Ernesto is a kind man who encourages Adelina to go back to high school, and then college, and even leaves Adelina an inheritance when he dies. Adelina uses the inheritance to continue searching for her father. Meanwhile, Adelina begins to date a doctor named Sebastian, but Adelina eventually breaks up with Sebastian because she doesn’t want to stop searching for Apá, and she doesn’t think that she can tell Sebastian the truth about her past. Finally, Adelina meets a man who remembers her father. The man takes her to her father’s bones. Apá died having never even made it across the border.

Adelina arrives in the village she left as a teenager with her father’s ashes. There, she meets a man who looks very familiar. She realizes he is José Alberto, whom she knows as Miguel, her little brother who was taken from her mother and raised by Doña Matilde. Without telling José Alberto who he really is, Adelina convinces him to visit her mother at the prison. When Amá sees José Alberto, she mistakes him for Apá, finally returning to her. José Alberto and Adelina allow Amá to believe that he is Apá so that she can die happy. Amá dies of a heart attack later that night. A few days later, José Alberto tells Adelina that he knows that they are brother and sister. José Alberto spoke to Antonia, Adelina’s godmother and an old friend of Amá’s, who told José Alberto the truth. Together, José Alberto and Adelina throw their parents’ ashes into the ocean.