I had trouble warming up to this book. The story was in one sense about baby mamas having babies and then neglecting them, out of either lack of any parental sense of duty (in the case of Letty) or out of the necessity of working many jobs (in the case of Carmen).
Letty Espinosa, 33, is offensively immature, irresponsible, and self-centered, and her daughter Luna, aged 6, is unbearably undisciplined, spoiled, and bratty. Letty also has a son, Alex, almost 15, by a different father than that of Luna.
They live in Eden’s Landing – run-down, nearly abandoned projects near the San Francisco International Airport. When the story begins, Letty’s mother, Maria Elena, wants to go to Mexico to find Enrique, her husband, who left six weeks earlier but has not yet returned. Letty is in a panic; she has no idea how to take care of her two children without Maria Elena. So she leaves the kids a note and takes off to Mexico with her mother. She lies to Maria Elena, claiming she has left the kids with her BFF, Sara. Enrique refuses to leave Mexico, and Maria Elena refuses to leave Enrique; she basically pushes Letty out and sends her back to America.
Carmen, 28, living in an even worse area than Letty, had her daughter Yesenia when she was only 14. Neither Carmen nor Yesenia are U.S. citizens, which means their futures are always in peril. Letty’s son Alex, almost 15, is in love with 15-year-old Yesenia. Yesenia is deformed from early domestic abuse, but Alex is fixated on the “beauty” of her deformities and how “tiny” Yesenia is. He ardently wants to protect her from the bullies that attack her because of her perceived weakness, and will do anything for her.
In addition, Alex has enlisted Yesenia to help him spy on his father, Wes Riley, who lives in nearby upscale Mission Hills. (Luna’s father is unknown.) One day, Wes follows Alex home to see who this kid is who is always spying on him, and to his shock finds Letty; he had never even known she was pregnant when she broke up with him.
Meanwhile, Letty has started to see Ricardo (“Rick”) Moya, a 29-year-old bartender where she works. Rick’s attraction to Letty was not believable to me at all. He was like the analogue of a common female character with incredibly low self-esteem who falls for a guy who mistreats her, is rude and abusive, and steals from her. But Alex didn’t seem to have a problem with a sense of self-worth, and I couldn’t see why he kept putting up with Letty or her daughter.
Wes was a cypher too – why was he never with anyone after Letty? Did he still love her? How did Letty feel about him after all this time? Why did he so easily let her go? None of that was ever really clear to me.
Soon Alex and Luna are both thriving at new schools in Mission Hills, thanks to Rick finding Letty a place to live there as a caretaker of a house. Alex wants to get Yesenia in his school too, because she is regularly beat up without him there to protect her. He puts his reputation and their freedom in America on the line, when he does what he thinks he must to protect Yesenia.
After the inevitable disaster, all the adults come together in a frenzy of sudden responsibility and try to save the kids from themselves and maybe even prevent more future baby parents, although that last part isn’t guaranteed.
Evaluation: I understood what make Letty and Luna the way they were, but didn’t like them. The males were much more opaque, which did not allow me to feel invested in their fates either. The story of the situation in which immigrants find themselves might have been more compelling without the focus on Letty, whose bitter sense of entitlement and appalling self-absorption didn’t make her very endearing.
Published in the U.S. by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House, 2015