Book Review: Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros



Efrén is a junior high student who finds his life turned upside down when his mother is deported back to Mexico. Suddenly he needs to take care of his two younger siblings and keep a house together while his father takes on extra jobs to make ends meet and bring his mom back home.

What I Liked

  • It was really interesting to see this story told from the eyes of a child. He doesn’t fully understand the gravity and intricacies of the situation. He just wants his Amá back home.
  • This story was well-written and touching. Normally I’m not a fan of books that make me cry – but this book made me cry in a good way. The story drew me in and I finished listening to the audiobook in one sitting because I just couldn’t walk away. The words and points brought up in this book are powerful and will stick with me for quite a while.
  • This book addresses so many aspects of the situation. For example, we see how distress at home can make it difficult to focus at school, even when school is important to a child. It also highlights how emotionally difficult it can be for a child in this situation – Efrén could no longer rely on his Amá for emotional support, because she was no longer in the country. And he couldn’t tell any of his friends, teachers, and other family friends of the situation and rely on them for support. Because if his mother does manage to make it back home, it can’t be common knowledge that she’s in the United States illegally. So he had to bear the burden on his own.
  • Along with sharing the different impacts this situation could have on a child and his family, we also see characters in different, but similar situations. This includes situations where both parents are deported, so the children, who are United States citizens, have to move as well; or situations where half of a family lives in the United States and half of a family lives in Mexico.
  • This book wasn’t overly political. It was simply the story of a boy whose mother was deported, and what that experience meant to him and his family.
  • I read this book after reading Invisible Women by Caroline Perez (review coming soon!) and it discusses how women have “invisible” burdens that can make it difficult for them to take opportunities, even if given to them. We see a similar issue with Efrén – although presented with fantastic opportunities, he can’t necessarily take them (and possibly elevate his family’s socio-economic status) because he has to stay home and take care of his siblings and family.

my favorite quotes

Like I said above, the words in this story are powerful. So I wanted to share some with you. Ones that could be considered spoilers are written in white – highlight over to read. Also, I wrote these down based on the book’s audio. So punctuation, italics, etc. may not match the book perfectly!

  • “‘I was home watching a report on how undocumented families were being separated. They had kids in cages, like animals. And that really hurt.’ She looked back at Efrén. ‘You ever buy eggs at the store?’
    ‘Yeah, sometimes, Amá sends me to the corner market whenever we’re out.”
    ‘You ever noticed the labels?’ Efrén shook his head. ‘Most of the eggs say the come from cage-free chickens. Which means, people in this country worry more about chickens than they do about undocumented children.'” (minute 33)
  • “‘…missed homework, showing up late, talking back. This lack of responsibility is so unlike you,’ he finally said. ‘Is everything alright?'” (1 hour, 35 minutes) (I found this one incredibly ironic as Efrén is taking on more responsibility that he ever has before, but to his teachers, it looks like he’s suddenly being irresponsible.)
  • “‘I just want what every parent wants for their children – a better life.’
    Efrén’s forehead wrinkled.  ‘A better life? Without you?’
    Lalo nodded, ever so slightly. ‘A better life… for her’” (3 hours, 37 minutes) (father in Mexico discussing his daughter, who lives in the United States.)
  • “So many images flooded past him: Brown skinned families reaching within the gaps of a US built fence, forced to wear their best smiles; tiny kids like Max and Mía working day jobs to help their families make ends meet; elderly men and women selling handmade items, curbside. A strange mix of sadness and pride overtook him, and for the first time in his entire life, he finally felt connected to his Mexican side. Everywhere he’d been, Efrén had witnessed signs of courage. People no different from himself, refusing to give up. He shook his head, remembering all the times he’d corrected Max and Mía for speaking Spanish, insisting that they learn the only language that mattered. Now, he understood why Amá and Apá continued to speak Spanish to them.” (3 hours, 49 minutes)
  • “The officer gripped the forms and wouldn’t let go. ‘These forms’, he said, leaning forward and whispering, ‘represent a giant sacrifice from your parents. A true gift. Don’t let it go to waste. Entiendes?'” (3 hours, 51 minutes)
  • “‘What if I don’t want to make do? What if I want to be selfish? Apá, I’m not asking for a huge house with a pool or fancy toys. I’m just asking for Amá back. That’s all. Why?’ he asked, between hicuppy sobs. ‘Why can’t I have that?'” (4 hours, 13 minutes)

Two quotes that stuck out to me are actually quoted from other sources. Those are:

  • “Somos semillitas. Nos quisieron enterran pero no sabían que éramos semillas” – Mexican Proverb (“We are little seeds. They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds”)
  • “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me. And there was no one left to speak for me.” – Martin Niemöller

What I Didn’t Like

  • Not applicable.

In Conclusion

This book should be in every late elementary/middle grade library. And regardless of age, everyone should read this book at least once!

Find it on: Goodreads |Amazon (affiliate link)

(affiliate link)

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