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Book Review: The Guardians: A Novel by Ana Castillo

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Ana Castillo is one of those writers that I always expect not just the best of, but the best of the best of. She certainly doesn’t disappoint in her lyrical new book The Guardians.

The book tells the story of the main protagonists in four intersecting voices. One of those voices belongs to the fifty-something redhead Regina, a widowed virgin who is eking out a poor living on her desert land while working as an underpaid teacher’s aide and caring for her nephew. She’s a strong character and embodies self sufficiency, love, and the desire to get ahead.

Regina’s raising Gabo, a deeply troubled and religious young man. His mother was murdered seven years before in a border crossing, with her body mutilated for its organs. Now his father Rafa is missing and Regina begins a search. The search leads her to Miguel, or Mike, a divorced teacher at the school where Regina works. Miguel becomes a friend to them both and helps Regina in the search for her brother.

These three and an unlikely fourth, Miguel’s grandfather Abuelo Milton, form a strange band of searchers as they hunt for clues to Rafa’s disappearance. Each chapter is written in one of these four voices and gives depth and an interesting spin to the story. We see the intersection and the different views of the people who are living it.

"I don't think they could come up with a horror movie worse than the situation we got going on en la frontera," as Abuelo Milton says.

Throughout the novel is the story of desperation, the illegal crossings, the coyotes who take advantage of the people they bring across. Castillo weaves into this intricately elegant story the Juarez murders of women, the Minutemen, the politics and the desert border town. It’s an amazing feat. She compels with each word, breathes magic into her words and we’re there, in a border meth lab where border crossers are held hostage until their families can come up with the money to ransom them. We feel the desperation of crossing the desert, the thirst that kills, the desire to make it through, to come to a better life.

The Guardians stands as a political statement about immigration, the rights of women, and I think — most of all — it is a cry of outrage.

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