87 pages 2 hours read

Ann Jaramillo

La Linea

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2006

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Summary and Study Guide


Miguel and his younger sister Elena endure hardship and brave horrific dangers as they struggle to leave Mexico, cross the border, and join their family in California in Ann Jaramillo’s young adult contemporary adventure, La Línea (2006). With Miguel’s story, Jaramillo strives to humanize the immigrant perspective by putting a face on the desperate, hopeful individuals who risk everything to make a better life for their families. Over the course of their arduous journey, Miguel learns the importance of family and perseverance and finds out that self-discovery is a never-ending series of challenges.

For La Línea, Jaramillo, an ESL teacher in California, drew inspiration from the real-life backgrounds of her Mexican American students. Consequently, La Línea contains realistic imagery and events that may emotionally trigger some readers. Miguel and Elena experience violence, including the threat of rape, and witness graphic injuries and death. Additionally, illegal immigration is a controversial topic that has become highly divisive in the US since the novel’s publication and may elicit emotional responses. La Línea received a starred review from Booklist, was nominated for several state awards, and was listed as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults in 2007. Pagination in the study guide refers to the 2006 Square Fish edition.

Plot Summary

On Miguel’s 15th birthday, nearly seven years after his parents left him and his sister, Elena, behind in Mexico, he receives the message from Papá that he has been waiting for: Finally, Papá wants Miguel to join him across the border—la línea—in the United States. Papá and Mamá work as field laborers there, sending money to Mexico to help support Miguel, Elena, and their grandmother, Abuelita. Miguel is glad to leave the drought-stricken, impoverished village of San Jacinto. He, unlike Elena, does not have the skills or desire to manage Abuelita’s small rancho and looks forward to a new life.

Miguel has conflicted feelings toward Papá, who he feels abandoned him years ago. Miguel’s anger toward Papá increases when he visits San Jacinto’s wealthy broker, Don Clemente, who specializes in getting people across the border for a fee. Don Clemente gives Miguel money and instructions, saying that Papá refused his many offers to help to send Miguel north. Miguel fumes over Papá’s pride. Thirteen-year-old Elena is furious that Miguel is leaving. She treasures Mamá’s letters and desperately wants to join her.

Miguel’s friends Lalo and Chuy attend his goodbye party, where relatives and neighbors warn Miguel about the dangers of his journey. Miguel promises to return in 10 years. Miguel says an emotional goodbye to Abuelita and is glad to receive her protective Virgen de Guadalupe medallion. Irked at Elena’s attitude, Miguel does not say goodbye to her.

The bus Miguel boards to begin his trip is primarily filled with single men, migrants like him. He meets a talkative older man named Javi, who is going north and find work to support his family. Federales stop the bus and demand bribes from the passengers. Miguel is shocked when a passenger he thought was an india is his sister Elena in disguise. Miguel, Elena, Javi, and most of the other migrants are bussed to the Guatemalan border for deportation. Miguel is furious at Elena for ruining his plans. Javi causes a distraction, which allows the migrants to flee into the border town.

Elena studied Miguel’s instructions on how to go north and got money from Don Clemente’s criminal nephew, Juanito. Miguel is angry and unforgiving. He takes Elena’s money and buys bus tickets home, intending to start his journey over, alone. They are robbed by a thief named Colmillo, who threatens Elena and takes their money. Fortunately, Elena had hidden half her funds. Miguel decides they will continue north together. They discover Don Clemente is dead and Juanito now runs his business.

Miguel and Elena reunite with Javi, who, like them, will hop the local freight train, the mata gente, or people killer, north to the border. Javi shares several tips that keep them safe and help them board the train when others are hurt and killed in the attempt. The ride is noisy, dirty, and dangerous. They must jump off when soldiers, or la migra, or train gangs stop or board the train. On one such occasion, Javi hurts his ankle. The group avoids being caught by soldiers, but Miguel knows Javi will slow them down. Miguel is outraged when Elena uses the rest of her money to buy them a ride north in the back of a truck. Miguel decides to hop the train by himself, then remembers Elena is family and changes his mind.

At the border, they meet Moisés, a professional coyote, who will guide them across the desert. He warns them about dangers like dehydration and armed militia patrols, but all three are determined to continue. Javi has trouble keeping their pace, which angers Moisés. They cross la línea in the middle of the desert. Moisés is shot by militia members, leaving Miguel, Elena, and Javi on their own. The trio is low on water. Miguel takes charge, attempting to follow Moisés’s route. They suffer from the heat and dehydration. Javi and Elena grow confused and sluggish. Javi struggles to continue. Distressingly, they discover the bodies of a migrant mother and child. After sheltering during a sandstorm, they wake to find Javi gone: He left them his partially full water bottle. The water is just enough for Elena and Miguel to continue. Near collapse, they reach the highway.

Ten years later, on the anniversary of their trip north, Miguel phones Elena and the two discuss their lives. Elena returned to Mexico, married Chuy, had a baby, and took over Abuelita’s rancho. Miguel graduated college and forgave Papá. Miguel will not return to Mexico until he can do so openly. Miguel reflects that life has many líneas that must be crossed: Some you see, and some you do not.