Monday, March 16, 2020

Review: The Road to Delano by John DeSimone

Movements like Eat Local and Farm to Table have people very cognizant of where their food comes from these days. People want to know that the food is ethically sourced and the farm workers are well treated. There's more of a spotlight on migrant workers, many of whom are undocumented, and the ways they are exploited to harvest the crops we all want on our tables. Certainly we're not even close to perfect in our ethical treatments of people, livestock, and land, but over all, the improvements have been vast and the farming industry knows it is under more scrutiny than it once was. How did it get this way though? How many people know about César Chavez and his fight to unionize the vineyards in Central California, his determination to achieve his goals by non-violent methods, or his hunger strike? How many people know just how recent this movement was? John DeSimone's novel, The Road to Delano, is set firmly in the 1950s farming world, a world on the verge of change, undergoing a difficult and contentious revolution.

Jack Duncan was eight when his father, Sugar, a farmer, died in a car accident, having gone off the road on his way home from a grower's convention. Jack's always been told that his father had been drinking when he died. Now ten years after Sugar's untimely death, Jack and his mother are on the verge of losing the single acre their house sits on, the last acre they still own of the vast farm that Sugar had been building but had apparently gambled and lost in a card game, to back taxes. So Jack sets off on the old, but still functional farm combine, to sell it in town and get the money to save the Duncan home. Along the way he stops to help an older man in the road. Herm had been his father's best friend and he tells Jack that Sugar's death was not an accident and that he, Jack, deserves to know the truth. Jack, and his friend Adrian, son of a Mexican American farm worker, are set to leave Delano come August for college, hopefully with baseball scholarships in hand. But the knowledge that Herm has given to Jack eats at him and amidst the escalating tensions that Jack can't fully understand, he wades into the dangerous world of the ongoing strike, learns firsthand the reasons behind César Chavez's movement, and goes toe to toe with the powerful growers of the area.

Jack's desire to do right by the people he cares about, saving their family home for his mother, naively poking into the past and his father's death looking for justice, standing by Adrian and his family no matter the danger in that stance, drives the plot forward. As a not quite 18 year old boy, who is neither a grower's son nor a farm worker's son, there's much he doesn't understand about the way his world works and he makes mistakes and missteps that are much more catastrophic for others than for him. Always possessed of a good heart, he learns as the novel goes on, maturing and growing in compassion, wisdom, and skill.

DeSimone does a good job weaving the potentially championship baseball season for the team with both grower's sons and farm worker's sons on it and Jack and Adrian's struggle to block out everything except that small white ball and the diamond with the volatile and unpredictable atmosphere of the town. If the novel starts with simmering tension, it ratchets up exponentially and the focus narrows as the pages turn. Jack is well drawn and complex as a character, struggling to live up to his father's reputation, burning with an anger that wants to explode, but also trying as hard as he can to do the right thing, urges that sometimes are in complete opposition to one another. The growers he's up against are less well developed, portrayed as one dimensional, solely bad people, despite one's son saying that his father isn't a bad guy and the expository speech of another telling Jack about the pressures of being a grape farmer. Nothing in the grower's characters proves they are anything but greedy, nasty, brutish human beings who aren't averse to killing people, if not directly, then at least with full knowledge of the result of their actions. Jack's late father is portrayed as having had the courage to pursue what he knew was right for the people he employed, for the land, and for his own conscience, the diametric opposite of all the other growers. Only Jack shows any nuance whatsoever. The unrest and air of barely suppressed violence, along with the appearance of Chavez and his determination to keep the cause nonviolent, is quite well done and illuminates a piece of modern history that so many do not know about. The ending of the story, while releasing some of the pent up pressure, still captures the cost to so many, of this fight for their lives. This is a political, fast paced, and historically accurate thriller of a read.

For more information about John DeSimone and the book, check our his author site, follow him on Instagram, look at the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and publisher Rare Bird Books for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. My dad would totally love this one! Thanks for the in depth review! Sara @ TLC Book Tours


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