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‘Solito’ by Javier Zamora Reading guide and questions

Read With Jenna’s September pick is a memoir that, according to Jenna Bush Hager, is about “doing the unthinkable.” Prior to the announcement, Jenna spoke with “Solito” author Javier Zamora in Tuscon, Arizona, where she was living with her parents after joining them in the United States from El Salvador. But the journey to get there was harrowing and she understands almost all of her memoir from her debut, “Solito”.

Zamora, 31, was supposed to take the same route as his mother, accompanied by the same coyote (a slang term for a smuggler who helps migrants cross the border), taking about two weeks. Instead, he was gone for two months.

‘Solito’ by Javier Zamora

Speaking with Jenna, Zamora explained the meaning of the book’s title: “Solito means alone,” meaning the weeks he was without his parents and grandparents, who raised him as a child.

What sustained him was the hope of reunion. “I write it like, ‘I’m going to see my parents. I’m going to see you’. It’s this optimism and hope that just came from me loving my mom and meeting my mom,” he said.

Zamora said he hopes his book will make the immigration issue impossible to ignore, especially since the book is written from a child’s point of view. “It’s very easy to ignore an adult, but a young child who is in his own voice, telling you, describing the world as he sees it … maybe there is more empathy,” she said.

For him, the moral of “Solito” is obvious: “Immigrants are human. It’s very simple. And hopefully they can see us out of the headlines, out of our suffering, that even in suffering there are moments of joy, “he said.

Below, find supplemental reading questions as you read the memoirs.

  1. “Travel. My parents started using that word about a year ago: ‘one day, you’ll take a trip to be with us. Like an adventure.'” The result is a harrowing story of migration, an immediate and intimate narrative, in which that the reader is essentially there, in the child’s shoes and inside his head. What did you learn from Javier Zamora’s experience? What surprised or shocked you?

  2. These memoirs are told from the author’s perspective as a nine-year-old boy. How do you think it adds to the narrative? Would the book have a different effect if it were the story of an adult’s journey?

  3. From Don Dago to others who remain nameless, Javier relies on a network of coyotes to take him to America. What was your initial opinion about these coyotes? Did it change throughout the memories?

  4. There are many stages in this journey: boat, bus, on foot. Describe the ways each stage was uniquely challenging and dangerous.

  5. The trip was not only physically exhausting, but also mentally. Discuss everything that Javier, as a young child, has to memorize throughout the ordeal, from Mexican cities to political events. Why would he have to pretend that he is Mexican?

  6. Apart from Javier, which characters stayed with you and why?

  7. How do you think this serves the story it tells and how does it affect the interplay between intense circumstances and beautiful images and writing?

  8. The natural world is a character in itself in Solito: the animals, the plants, the landscape, the full moon, the sunrise, particularly in the desert scenes. What natural elements caught your attention and why?
  9. How do you think Javier survived the seven-week trip? How do you think he sustained himself mentally and emotionally?

  10. How does Javier change throughout the book?

  11. Solito takes place in 1999, 23 years ago, and we still need immigration reform. He lists three ways he believes the US immigration system can be made more efficient and humane. Can you even change the existing system?

  12. Javier’s story is also the story of millions who have had no choice but to leave home. Have you or someone you know faced similar circumstances? If so, how has this shaped your life or theirs?

  13. How much did you know about the US immigration system before reading Solito? Has your view of the problem changed? Why or why not?

  14. Towards the beginning of the memoir, Javier lists all the ways he and his mother tried to legally immigrate. He discusses how these attempts are threatened.

  15. What could you or your neighbors do to welcome immigrant families to your community?

  16. How did you feel at the end of “Solito”?

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