Manuelito, A Graphic Novel
By Elisa Amado
Illustrated by Abraham Urias
Publisher: Annick Press
Publication Date: April 9, 2019
Manuelito is a grade-school boy from a rural Mayan village in the highlands of Guatemala. His community was rife with violence from various groups including the armed civil patrol (PACs, in Spanish), Maras (gangs), and drug dealers. This story portrays the reality of illegal immigration as a consequence of widespread violence, poverty, and drug trafficking. Manuelito’s school closed and with nowhere else to go and nothing else to do at his age, his family decided to send him to the US to live with his aunt.
After days of traveling, both with and without the assistance of a coyote (people smuggler), he was able to traverse the perilous journey from his village to arrive miraculously in Long Island, NY. He took buses, endured days of traveling with strangers, crossed/swam rivers to get across, and walked for miles just to arrive at his destination.
He was separated from his close friend, Coco Loco and were not afforded the truth to his friend’s demise. Time and again, he wondered where his friend could have gone, if he were taken back to Guatemala, sold to gang members, or worse… He had also encountered other individuals who had stories as tragic as his; rape victims or runaways from identical types of violence.
Nonetheless, the story ending was depressing. Despite having reached his destination and were finally living in an ideal world with his aunt, he had to face the harsh truth that US authorities were in constant search of undocumented immigrants to send back to their originating countries.
I liked the book cover. At first glance, I saw an innocent boy who had a story to share. It seemed auspicious based on other things such as the two boys running together on the bottom of the spread, men on the background who might be working at their farms, and a peaceful village behind them. Alas, it is a lie and quite the opposite is true.
Manuelito’s story may be that of just one person but it is similar to the hundreds of thousands of people, including unaccompanied minors, who cross the US borders on an annual basis. We get slight glimpses of his journey from his Mayan village to Long Island, succinct and to the point; graphics that are accompanied by short descriptions.
The advanced review copy (ARC) had blurry images, some drawings were indistinguishable even. The illustrations seemed like they were outlines and were drawn over images. The stories and descriptions were written in ALL CAPS! I don’t think I’ve ever read a book (or most of it) that was written in all capital letters. There were more than enough instances of bad grammar and incomplete sentences (or no sentence structures). The dialogue bubbles could also have been structured and arranged better for me to be able to follow along with the conversations.
Unfortunately, this story needed more depth to be memorable in my opinion. It is very timely to what crisis the US is facing on its borders but this graphic novel did not successfully embody that crisis and failed to execute a more affecting storytelling.
I give this book 3 (out of 5) stars.
Images copyright: Elisa Amado and Annick Press Ltd. I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. #Manuelito #NetGalley