Book Reviews

The Road to Delano by John DeSimone

Happy Tuesday everyone! Instead of my usual Top Ten Tuesday today I opted to get a start on some reviews I’ve been working on. Everything is pretty topsy turvy these days and I’m logging more hours at work than I was before the lockdown so I haven’t had much time for non-work things. However, now that my employer is better adjusted to the situation things are finally starting to calm down and I can actually spend time away from my workstation.

I hope all of you are staying safe and finding ways to occupy yourselves. And if you’re looking for something to read to help pass the time, then I wholeheartedly recommend The Road to Delano, a book I recently finished that got me right in the feels.


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Released: March 2020
Publisher: Rare Bird Books
Pages: 432
Rating: 4/5big-blue-divider-hi synopsis

From the publisher:

With a foreword by Cesar Chavez’s spokesman and speechwriter Marc Grossman.

A high school senior, Jack Duncan dreams of playing college baseball and leaving the political turmoil of the agricultural town Delano behind. Ever since his father, a grape grower, died ten years earlier, he’s suspected that his mother has been hiding the truth from him about the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death.

With his family’s property on the verge of a tax sale, Jack drives an old combine into town to sell it. On the road, an old friend of his father shows up with evidence that Jack’s father was murdered. Armed with this new information, Jack embarks on a mission to discover the entire truth, not just about his father but the corruption endemic in the Central Valley. When Jack’s girlfriend warns him not to do anything to jeopardize their post graduation plans and refuses to help him, Jack turns to his best friend, Adrian, the son of a boycotting fieldworker who works closely with Cesar Chavez.

The boys’ dangerous plan to rescue the Duncan family farm leaves Adrian in a catastrophic situation, and Jack must step up to the plate and rescue his family and his friend before he can make his escape from Delano. The Road to Delano is the path Jack and Adrian must take to find their strength, their duty, their destiny.

review

This book struck a pretty personal chord for me. My grandfather was a minister in California during the same time period this book took place and his congregation was mostly made up of migrant Mexican farmworkers. My father and his family were farmworkers as well, he and his siblings helping in the prune orchards when they weren’t in school. They faced the same type of racism that Adrian and the other Mexicans in the community faced  in the book and it was brutal stuff to read. One of my father’s most painful memories is taking his father out to lunch and being turned away because the diner didn’t serve “dogs or Mexicans.”

While my mother wasn’t a farmworker or descended from one, she was a hardcore hippie and one of her main causes was farmworker rights. As a result, Cesar Chavez was a seriously revered name in my household. She was present at a couple of the historical events mentioned in this book so that was an added bonus for this reader.

Some of my earliest memories are of going to rallies and marches with her, although I was too young when Chavez died to really remember if I ever met the impressive man. However, I never had to meet him to know how incredibly inspiring he was and how much his work mattered. Having him present during this book added so much poignancy to an already powerful story.

Speaking of the book, I probably should start reviewing it! Its strength definitely lays with the scenes dealing with the farmworkers and the UFW. Those scenes were the most moving and often involved the characters I found myself most interested in. The author did a breathtaking job with setting the scene, making the landscape of 1960’s Kern County come to life. I could truly picture myself there in the fields, in the picket lines, and in Jack’s car as he traveled those lonely roads.

Jack’s story was heartbreakingly raw, especially as he learned more about his father’s fate and how his family’s farm came to ruin. The theme of this story was David vs. Goliath in not only Jack’s family against the bigger growers, but the workers against the community that saw them as less than human. Themes that are sadly still rampant today.

Where the story started to lose me was with the whole poker thing. I get that there are naturals at the game, but having Jack become a poker master within a couple of weeks was a little hard to believe. Toward the end you began to see how his plan to triumph through poker was starting to unravel, but it was just an odd plot line.

Sure, old and rich white men tend to be cocky and maybe they would have challenged this teenager to the match that they did, however the whole debacle didn’t really work for me. Luckily, the rest of the story was pretty phenomenal even if the rushed ending and poker stuff let it down. I still think this is a very important novel that everyone should read, especially given that what these migrant farmworkers were fighting for are fights that still rage on today.

thoughts

When reading books about civil rights that took place over half a century ago, it would be nice to think that humanity has changed for the better since then. In some ways it has, but in a lot of ways it’s stayed the same and reading something like this really hammers that fact home. Farm owners aren’t outright beating and killing their field hands with no repercussions, but workers are still suffering and often those who are in power are able to get away with so much.

Just a few miles away from some of the most affluent cities in California lie essential shanty towns where farmworkers and their families are crammed into squalid living quarters. Many of them are sick, especially children, and pesticide is often thought to be the main culprit. Except none of them can go to the doctor because the owners will only foot the bill if it’s proven that the illnesses are work related. Otherwise workers are stuck with the bills and not many of them can afford it so they don’t risk it.

It may sound like I’m exaggerating, but as of about a decade ago that definitely was still the case. I spent enough time out there with the workers and the UFW to see it firsthand. Reading this book made me realize how similar the workers’ lives are today when compared to the workers in this book. I truly hope that this book inspires others and raises more awareness because we’ve come a long way since the Delano Grape Strike, but we certainly still have a long way to go.

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3 thoughts on “The Road to Delano by John DeSimone”

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