94 pages 3 hours read

Ernesto Cisneros

Efrén Divided

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2020

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Summary and Study Guide


Efrén Divided is a 2020 contemporary middle grade novel by Ernesto Cisneros. When his mother is suddenly deported to Mexico, seventh grader Efrén Nava must take charge of his younger siblings while keeping up with schoolwork and chores; he hopes that in doing so, the money his father earns at a second job will be enough to bring his mother home. Efrén Divided was a 2021 Pura Belpre Award winner and a School Library Journal Best Book selection. This guide refers to the 2020 edition published by HarperCollins Children’s Books.

Plot Summary

As seventh grader Efrén Nava watches his mother prepare breakfast for his twin kindergarten siblings, Max and Mia, he is amazed by her ability to make wonderful sopes so easily. Efrén thinks of Amá as a “Soperwoman” not just for her meal-making ability but in the way she tends to all the family’s needs while working long hours in a factory setting ironing garments. Tired from waiting up late for Amá to return home from work, Efrén reflects on recent talk and rumors in the neighborhood regarding the arrest and deportment of undocumented workers. Because both of his parents left Mexico for America without authorization, they are in danger of being discovered by la migra (immigration officials) and deported.

Amá allows Efrén to walk on his own to school that day for the first time. On the way, he meets best friend David, who explains his decision to run for president in the upcoming school election. David thinks he will win easily over the only other candidate, Jennifer Huerta, a know-it-all girl in their grade. David thinks his election will lead to popularity, and he plans to use the position to institute fun (but unrealistic) changes, like eliminating homework. After attending a meeting with David to hear the rules and responsibilities of running for an office from Leadership teacher Ms. Salas, Efrén heads to the library during morning breaktime. He loves to read and often checks out several books at a time.

Today, Jennifer Huerta approaches him in the library, and they chat about books, school, and the election. Jennifer confides her fears for her undocumented mother and shares her research about the separation of immigrant families in America. She wants to promote local awareness and changes to a system that cages undocumented children. Efrén finds himself appreciating her views and thinking despite his loyalty to David that she would make an excellent school president. He checks out only one book, The House on Mango Street, at Jennifer’s recommendation.

Efrén cannot find his mother after school. When he finally discovers the twins safe at the home of a neighbor, he learns that his worst fears came true: Immigration officials picked up his mother and plan to deport her to Mexico. Efrén’s life changes overnight; now he must manage the morning routine and the school drop off with Max and Mia while his father works longer-than-usual hours plus a second job at night to earn extra money. The money will go to Amá’s attempt to cross the border back into the US with a coyote (a person paid a fee to assist a person from Mexico into America without legal authorization). Efrén quickly realizes that his own homework is incredibly difficult with his new responsibilities; he skips a history assignment, then arrives late to class. He cannot attend the detention incurred because he must pick up his siblings after school. This prompts him to tell the teacher, Mr. Garrett, about Amá. Efrén tells no one else, however, because of the danger involved.

Amá’s attempt to cross with a coyote fails. Someone steals her purse, identification, and all the money Apá borrowed and earned to get her back. Efrén sees from online searches that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents apprehend undocumented people from residences, stores, and places of employment. He reads about a new border wall in the news. He worries for Amá and wonders what more he can do to help. When Jennifer Huerta’s mother is suddenly deported after a raid, Jennifer goes with her. Efrén feels he must run in her place, even if it means running against his best friend. David is furious and hurt, saying they are no longer friends.

Apá sells his tools and joins a group at work whose members pool funds for those in need. When Apá gathers enough money for Amá’s second attempt to come home, Efrén convinces Apá to allow him (Efrén) to cross the border into Tijuana to hand-deliver the money to Amá. Despite the terrible danger of the rough city, Apá agrees because Efrén, born in America, is a legal US citizen who can cross the border, whereas if Apá approaches the border, he risks arrest—leaving the family with no parents. Efrén is nervous but devoted to helping Amá.

In Tijuana, dangerous men pursue Efrén, but a kind taxi driver, Lalo, rescues him. Before Lalo takes Efrén to meet Amá, he brings Efrén to the Muro, the iron fence that serves as a border wall between Mexico and the US. There, Efrén sees separated families visiting and clinging to one another through the fence. He realizes he is no better of a person than them—just better off thanks to the sacrifices of his parents.

Lalo offers to find a trustworthy connection who will help Amá. She and Efrén say goodbye, and Efrén regroups with Apá, telling him he had no trouble so that Apá will not worry. The next morning, Amá gets safely across the border. Apá, Efrén, and the twins rejoice and excitedly attend Mass. Neighbors bring food and wait to celebrate, but soon it grows clear that Amá is not coming. Apá answers the phone when it rings and learns that border patrol agents arrested Amá at the San Clemente checkpoint. They are detaining her without word on potential outcomes.

Efrén wants to talk about what they will try next. Apá insists they will keep trying but does not realistically know when they might have a plan to get Amá home. Heartbroken, Efrén wants to quit the election at school and writes a letter of resignation. The next morning, Jennifer returns to school suddenly, explaining that she will apply to a private school as part of the Fair Tomorrows Program that assists children of deported parents. She says she cannot run for president due to make-up and application work and is disappointed to hear that Efrén plans to resign.

After class, they discover that someone defaced Efrén’s campaign posters with a racist message. In the principal’s office, Efrén learns that David was found taking .down the offensive ads in support of Efrén. The two mend their friendship, and Jennifer and David convince Efrén to run for president. He has ideas about grassroots efforts for change to the problems he sees with families of immigrants, and with the help of his friends, feels more confident that he can work on issues as president. He agrees to serve in the role.