Excerpt from Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Enrique's Journey

By Sonia Nazario

Enrique's Journey
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2006,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2007,
    336 pages.

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Now he is fourteen, a teenager. He spends more time on the streets of Carrizal, which is controlled by the Poison gang and is quickly becoming one of Tegucigalpa's toughest neighborhoods. His grandmother tells him to come home early. But he plays soccer until midnight. He refuses to sell spices. It is em­barrassing when girls see him peddle fruit cups or when they hear someone call him "the tamale man." Sometimes his grandmother pulls out a belt at night when Enrique is naked in bed and therefore unable to quickly escape her punishment by running outside. "Ahora vamos a areglar las cuentas. Now we are going to settle the score," she says. She keeps count, inflicting one lash for each time Enrique has misbehaved.

Enrique has no parent to protect him on the streets of Carrizal. He makes up for it by cultivating a tougher image. When he walks alongside his grandmother, he hides his Bible under his shirt so no one will know they are headed to church.

Soon, he stops going to church at all.

"Don't hang out with bad boys," Grandmother Mar'a says.

"You can't pick my friends!" Enrique retorts. She is not his mother, he tells her, and she has no right to tell him what to do. He stays out all night.

His grandmother waits up for him, crying. "Why are you doing this to me?" she asks. "Don't you love me? I am going to send you away."

"Send me! No one loves me."

But she says she does love him. She only wants him to work and to be honorable, so that he can hold his head up high.

He replies that he will do what he wants.

Enrique has become her youngest child. "Please bury me," she says. "Stay with me. If you do, all this is yours." She prays that she can hold on to him until his mother sends for him. But her own children say Enrique has to go: she is seventy, and he will bury her, all right, by sending her to the grave.

Sadly, she writes to Lourdes: You must find him another home.

To Enrique, it is another rejection. First his mother, then his father, and now his grandmother.

Lourdes arranges for her eldest brother, Marco Antonio Zablah, to take him in. Marco will help Enrique, just as he helped Lourdes when she was Enrique's age. Marco once took in Lourdes to help ease the burden on their mother, who was struggling to feed so many children.

Her gifts arrive steadily. She sends Enrique an orange polo shirt, a pair of blue pants, a radio cassette player. She is proud that her money pays Belky's tuition at a private high school and eventually a college, to study accounting. In a country where nearly half live on $1 or less a day, kids from poor neighborhoods almost never go to college.

Money from Lourdes helps Enrique, too, and he realizes it. If she were here, he knows where he might well be: scavenging in the trash dump across town. Lourdes knows it, too; as a girl, she herself worked the dump. Enrique knows children as young as six or seven whose single mothers have stayed at home and who have had to root through the waste in order to eat.

Truck after truck rumbles onto the hilltop. Dozens of adults and children fight for position. Each truck dumps its load. Feverishly, the scavengers reach up into the sliding ooze to pluck out bits of plastic, wood, and tin. The trash squishes beneath their feet, moistened by loads from hospitals, full of blood and placentas. Occasionally a child, with hands black­ened by garbage, picks up a piece of stale bread and eats it. As the youngsters sort through the stinking stew, thousands of sleek, black buzzards soar in a dark, swirling cloud and defecate on the people below.

Enrique sees other children who must work hard jobs. A block from where Lourdes grew up, children gather on a large pile of sawdust left by a lumber mill. Barefoot atop the peach-colored mound, their faces smeared with dirt, they quickly scoop the sawdust into rusty tin cans and dump it into big white plastic bags. They lug the bags half a mile up a hill. There, they sell the sawdust to families, who use it as kindling or to dry mud around their houses. An eleven-year-old boy has been hauling sawdust for three years, three trips up the hill each day. The earnings buy clothes, shoes, and paper for school.

Excerpted from Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario Copyright © 2006 by Sonia Nazario. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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