Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros – Book Review

  • Title: Efrén Divided
  • Author: Ernesto Cisneros
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • Release Date: March 2020


Efrén, a young Mexican-American, loves his family, especially his Amá. He appreciates all the small miracles she performs each and every day, whether cooking delicious breakfast despite sparse ingredients, patching up clothes in creative ways, or any of the other caring acts that fill his life with love. However, Efrén’s life is turned upside down when Amá does not return home from work one day and is subsequently deported back to Mexico. Efrén must now do what he can to help his Apá care for the family and help get his mother back stateside to make his family whole once again.

Efrén Divided is a powerful novel debut by Ernesto Cisneros. Cisneros imbues empathy, compassion, heartbreak, and thought-provoking questions into Efrén’s story. He forces readers to walk in the shoes of a family torn apart by U.S. immigration laws. No matter a reader’s perspective on this hot-button issue, Efrén and his family’s struggles offer a searing view into the heart of the conflict. The novel takes a bold and unapologetic stance, personalizing the various news headlines that flash across screens around the country. As those headlines become a face and a name, readers will have no choice but to connect with Efrén. This connection reveals one simple truth that seems forgotten: if we just get to know each other, we will find that we have more in common than we think.

This book is important because it can serve as a vehicle for challenging conversations about a polarizing topic. The Nava’s story provides a window (or mirror) into one family’s fight for the American Dream and how their fight not only affects each character but also the community around them. Efrén’s perseverance in the face of great obstacles is inspiring and reminds readers that no matter a person’s identity, they can make a difference and be an advocate for change. Taught in conjunction with a study on the history of U.S. immigration, a cross-curricular unit can foster deep analysis and better understanding of immigration’s complex dynamics.

Classroom Applications

  • Unit – Teach the novel in conjunction with a nonfiction study of the history of U.S. immigration.
  • Thematic Literature Circle – Use novel for small groups or choice reading for books with themes about immigration.

Nonfiction Connections: The list below outlines topics that will enrich your students’ understanding of the novel.

  • U.S. History of Immigration
  • Life of Immigrants in the U.S.
  • Current Events and Contemporary Issues
  • Immigration Push and Pull Factors

Book Companions: The following are great books to pair with Efrén Divided. In parenthesis are the specific aspects students could explore when synthesizing across the texts.

  • Refugee by Alan Gratz (Nonfiction Connections, Character Connections, Themes)
  • Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (Themes, Character Connections, Nonfiction Connections)
  • Front Desk by Kelly Yang (Historical Connections, Character Connections, Themes)
  • Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga (Themes, Character Connections, Nonfiction Connections)


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