Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Crossing the Line (Border Town Series)

In an interview with NPR, Malin Alegria described her new teen series, Border Town, as being like Sweet Valley High, "but with brown kids." Depending on your view of Sweet Valley High and other books in that particular genre, one might be a little hesitant to get excited. Formulaic plots? Cheesy writing? Kinda lame high school drama? One dimensional characters? Ehhh. Do we really need more of that? The teen romance series has gone of the way of the dinosaur for a reason, yes? 

Fortunately, there's a lot to like about Crossing the Line. The protagonist, Fabiola Garza, isn't your typical teen series character. She's not one of the cool kids. She's kind of awkward, but isn't bothered by fact that she doesn't really fit in with any particular group at school. She actually, gasp, seems pretty content with who she is! After describing the many cliques that exist at school to her younger sister Alexis, who is about to start high school, Alexis asks Fabi the loaded high school question: "What are you?" To which Fabi responds: "I guess I'm normal." Nothing wrong with that!

Throughout the novel Fabi contends with her younger sister's growing popularity as she finds a place for herself among the popular kids, a mean girl bully, and the mysterious attacks on undocumented workers, including one of the employees at her family's restaurant. Is there romance? There is a boy, but for now they're just friends. Which is a refreshing change from so many books and movies for teens where the existence of a romance seems to be a requirement.

Crossing the Line has its moments of teen angst in the form of conflict between Fabi and her younger sister who is in love with a popular football player, and Fabi's occasional bullying at the hands of Melodee. But it is also full of humor as seen in the funny opening scene in which Fabi attempts to by a box of tampons on the down-low, but realizes it's a nearly impossible feat in a town where everyone knows everyone. Lest we think it's all fun and games, the storyline in which a group of teens is attacking and robbing undocumented workers sheds light on the anti-immigrant sentiments currently seen around the country.

Unlike the Sweet Valley High books, the story lines aren't flat, the characters are multi-dimensional, and conflicts don't come off feeling contrived and formulaic. The only character who seems to be a sort of stereotype and perhaps around for the sake of additional conflict is Melodee, the popular (white?) girl who once dated the football player Alexis is interested in and who bullies Fabi. I also have a bit of an issue with the cover featuring two very similar-looking thin girls since the description in the book of the sisters is one of opposites. Alexis is described as having "light-colored skin and petite figure" while Fabi has "strong indigenous features and thick frame." Hmmm. The issue of misrepresentation in book covers is an ongoing one.

I'm curious about the fresas, the rich kids from Mexico. Is there conflict between Mexican-American kids and fresas? I would also be interested in knowing what kind of reception this (and the rest of the series) gets from teens who live in border towns. The text is peppered with Spanish words, but no worries, the terms are explained in a "Tex-Mex for Beginners" glossary at the end of the book.

This would make a great summer read. The next book in the series is due out in early July. Can't wait!


  1. Great review, Celia! This sounds like a book Emily & I would like to check out.

  2. After reading your review, I purchased the book and LOVED it. I shared it with m 6th graders and they loved it, too. Just purchased the second in the series for one of my students.

  3. I'm so glad you enjoyed the book as much as I did! :) Celia