Amado’s dream is coming true. After five years apart, his mamá has returned to Mexico and will take him back to live with her and Papá in the United States. Initially, Mamá tells eleven-year-old Amado she has papers to cross the border. He soon uncovers her lie and Mamá admits they must walk through the Sonoran desert to “the other side.” Though hurt by Mamá’s deceit, Amado knows he is strong and brave enough to do anything that will take him to Papá, so they can live as a family together.
At the border, Mamá holds her own in an argument with the coyote and Amado’s confidence in her soars. He carries his baby brother, his little sister’s backpack—anything to help, to assure they don’t get left behind, as the coyote continually threatens. But walking across the desert is more grueling than he had ever imagined. For two days, he battles heat and thirst, scorpions and rattlesnakes, menacing men in their group and the U.S. Border Patrol. Additional betrayals by Mamá—misinformation about the length of the trek and her failure to stand up to the coyote when his demands escalate—feed on Amado’s exhaustion and his belief in her starts to unravel. On their third day in the desert, when Amado discovers Mamá has given away their last bottle of water to the meanest man traveling with them, he loses any faith he had left in her.
Leaving the desert, Amado believes the worst is over. But in California, they narrowly escape disaster evading a checkpoint. The bus ride to Washington State brings another encounter with immigration officials that sets Amado on edge.
Arriving, Amado’s visions of a perfect ending implode. He and Papá argue, leaving Amado with a hole inside that being together hasn’t filled. But as Amado questions Mamá and Papá and confronts the emotional turmoil of the trip, he forgives them and forgives himself. And with this, Amado finds his dream—the home and family he’s always wanted.