Sunday, April 3, 2011

Illegal by Bettina Restrepo


Author: Bettina Restrepo

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

4 out of 5 stars

You stroll down the street with a banged up suitcase that holds your meager belongings in one hand. It’s a chore to lift your leg up each time to take a step, and you’ve only just got here. Your body is sore all over and you hurt everywhere. Your hair sticks to your forehead, as beads of sweat stream down, leaving trails on your dirt-smudged face. You lick your dry, cracked lips and glance around nervously. Hoping no one can tell that you don’t fit in, you stride with more purpose and act like you belong. It is your first day in America. And you are illegal.

This is exactly how fifteen-year-old Nora feels on her first day in America. She and her mother crossed the border in the back of a fruit truck and they don’t know quite what to do. They are lost and confused, but they can’t back down now. They have made it this far, and are in the land of the free at last. Nora knows that she must be strong and support her mother and herself, but she can’t help but think of old times…

Nora remembers when she used to be part of a happy family living in Mexico. It was her, her mother and father, and her grandma, happily living on their fruit orchard. Things were good, until that is, there wasn’t enough money coming in from the orchard and times were tough. Her father decided to go to America where he would be able to work and support the family. He promised that someday they would all be together again.

That was three years ago, and since then things have gone from bad to worse. Nora and her mother and grandmother are living on the bare minimum. They are struggling just to make ends meet, and they are wistfully hoping for the day that they will all be reunited once again. Nora can’t take it anymore though, and when her father stops sending money, she takes it into her own hands to do something. Her and her mother cross the border to America, hoping to find their father and husband in Texas. But Nora is now in a whole new world and it seems that she doesn’t know what to do. She’s frightened and scared, but she’s determined not to show it for the sake of her mother. Will Nora ever find her father again? Can they really make a new life in this strange new country so unlike their home? All is revealed in Bettina Restrepo’s debut novel that shows a glimpse into one girl’s daunting journey to make it in, Illegal!

Illegal was a beautifully woven tale that showed the true hardships that one must endure while trying to make a living in a strange, new place. Bettina Restrepo’s characters were burdened with learning the new ways of America, while trying to stay true to themselves. Illegal was given to me by HarperTeen as an uncorrected proof for review.* Thank you so much HarperTeen! Illegal is an insightful read for pre-teens and older teens alike that might be able to relate to Nora’s seemingly impossible journey.

The entire account of Nora’s experience felt very real. It wasn’t easy-peasy trying to make it in America. Nora went through a lot just to get there, and that was only the beginning. The threat of getting caught by the police, being sucked into gangs, and of course, never finding her father were all very likely. However, despite all of the obstacles that stood in her way, Nora pushed through and did her best to make ends meet and survive.

It was nice to seen Nora’s heritage really shine through. Some Spanish is woven in throughout the story which made it feel much more authentic. (Oh, but don’t worry if you don’t speak Spanish. There’s a glossary in the back you can use.) Also Nora held onto her roots and always went back to her faith and where she came from whenever she wasn’t quite sure what to do next. Illegal reminded me very much of Esperanza Rising, in the sense that both girls in both books had everything, and then went to owning practically nothing as they struggled in America.

Oh, and I just have to mention that one of the character’s in the story is named Contessa. However, many time’s she is referred to as Tessa. It was very weird to see my name in a book, but by the end of the book I was getting used to it. I just thought I’d share that with you!

Sometimes the storyline was a bit predictable, and it was easy to see what was coming around the corner. That’s not to say that there weren’t surprises though! Many times I gasped in shock or fear and fretted over what Nora would do next to try and get herself out of a sticky situation. It also seemed that things were just handed to Nora and her mother at times when they were in America. Opportunities were suddenly laid out in front of them. Then again, it is America, and opportunities are always within reach. It’s just a matter of whether you grasp them or not.

Overall, Illegal is a tale of one immigrant’s story to cross over into America and make her dreams come true, that will surely warm your heart. Join Nora, as she fights to survive and won’t take no for an answer in, Illegal!

-This is T.B. with Another Book Back on the Shelf…
Until Next Time, Keep Reading!

*I received this novel from HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins.  I received Illegal as an uncorrected proof in exchange for my honest review.  Thank you so much HarperTeen! 

Check out Bettina Restrepo's website at
Illegal is available from Amazon here.


  1. Excellent review! I'm not usually one for realistic fiction but I might have to make an exception for this because the plot sounds truly wonderful and inspiring. Also, I've never read my name in a book before but I think that would for sure throw me off as well!

  2. Tessa; I'm super jealous! I've had my eye on this book foreverrr! Coming form an immigrant family myself, since the first time I read the synopsis, I knew I had to read this book. Great review! Thanks so much for sharing and congrats on receiving an early copy for review :)

  3. I loved this book. I felt it was full of hope despite the dismal situation. I like to learn when I read, and I certainly did with this book. Great review.

  4. Dear Contessa,

    First, I must compliment you on such a well written blog post. I'm very impressed in the way that you have translated the plot!

    And second, I'm thrilled you found your name in the book. I played with Tessa's name for a long time, and (you you know since you read the book) that I only reveal Contessa's real name twice - both pivotal moments.

    Keeping blogging - you are awesome!

  5. Very insightful review.

    Oh, I have really been wanting to read this book for a while now. The story and Nora's journey sound very authentic. And it always makes me happy when I see my name in a book too.

  6. Aylee- I usually enjoy reading realistic fiction, especially if it shows the struggles of what teens today are going through. I find it much easier to relate to the book that way. Illegal is definitely an inspiring read. It was cool to see my name! Haha, I defintely had to do a double-take when I read it at first. :)

    The Lovely Getaway- Thanks! I hope you get a chance to read Illegal, and you may be able to relate to what Nora goes through. Receiving a copy from the publisher was so exciting, and I couldn't believe that I was actually getting it!

    Terry Lynn Johnson- This book really does show that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Oh, and I certainly learned too! Whether it was new words in Spanish, or what the journey of an immigrant is like, there were definitley learning opportunities.

    Bettina- Thanks so much for stopping by! That means a lot to me. I was intrigued by who Tessa was, as she kept being mentioned. It was definitley a surprise to see my name, Tessa, in a published book! Again, thank you so, so much for checking out my blog!

    Missie- The story of Nora was very realistic, and I truly felt Nora's struggles and hardhsips. Hope you enjoy it when you get a chance!

  7. Great Review!!! Not mention the blog...Keep Up the good work. New follower here. Hope to see you at my blog.

  8. Thanks so much for stopping by! I checked out your blog as well, it's awesome!

  9. Wonderful review! This book looks really good :) It looks very moving, so I'll have to be sure to check this one out!

  10. Thanks! It really was moving, and I was really able to feel Nora's frustration and fear at times. Hope you like it if you get a chance to read it!


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