Life isn't easy for undocumented immigrants in America. Jessica Cruz, who in DC’s new YA graphic novel, Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz Story, is an immigrant enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, knows that better than most. She spends much of her life anxious and afraid that ICE will force her unprotected parents back to Mexico. And she can't help but wonder if it might not be better for them to just return before someone makes them.
Jessica wishes she had the words to tell the people closest to her how she truly feels, but they don't understand. She's stuck walking a tightrope between hope and anger.
See which path Jessica ultimately follows in this timely new story written by Lilliam Rivera and illustrated by Steph C—and learn more about whether this book would be a good one for you in the breakdown below!
The angular nature of Jessica's face in front of the Aztec-reminiscent motif feels like something you'd see in a museum as an example of ancient beauty. The melting and/or watery nature of the bottom half doesn't seem—if you were to explain the idea to someone without them seeing the combination—like it would work, but it gives the cover a magical and powerful feeling, especially because it seems like the fluid is floating upward, rather than running down.
Tell Me a Story:
Jessica Cruz is feeling torn. Torn between two countries: the United States and Mexico. Torn between living her life or hiding from people who could hurt her. Torn between two Aztec gods (Chalchiuhtlicue, Goddess of the Jade Skirt, and Tezcatlipoca, God of the Smoking Mirror) who've taken a liking to her and are trying to lead her in two very different directions. Although Jessica knows that she should refile her DACA paperwork and figure out what she wants to do in college, with friends being apprehended by ICE right in front of her eyes and a neighborhood politician running on a platform filled with racism, she can't help but be concerned about bigger things.
When her father's detained, Jessica begins to lean into the fear and anger touted by Tezcatlipoca, but it's not really in her true nature to give in to defeat.
Let’s Talk Art:
Steph C's art is a really brilliant complement to this story, which features examples of Mexican culture (through a US lens) and Aztec imagery, because of its angular quality and the focus on the main characters and action of each panel/page. No one ever feels entirely anatomically accurate or proportional, but they're all handsome nonetheless. The rest of the art, while not secondary, does take a backseat with muted tones and softer, more watercolor-like or chalk pastel-like colors. This adds, nicely, to the dreamy quality of certain scenes and really drives home the fact that this story is more about what Jessica's feeling inside than what's happening around her.
Rivera isn't one to shy away from tough topics, and the way she incorporates real-life (real tough) issues like immigration into an alternative origin story for a well-known DC superhero takes a deft hand. Jessica is a strong young woman who strays from her true path, but eventually finds her way back thanks to friends and family (and a particular green family treasure). Although this isn't a book with literal superpowers, through Jessica Rivera it shows that there's something powerful in everyone, even if they struggle to find it.
By the Numbers:
Number of alternative versions of Green Lanterns featured in the book: 2
Number of times Jessica wears a green item of clothing: 16
Number of glowing green jewelry items that help Jessica realize her true power: 1
Number of mentions of Green Lantern: 0 (but see the section above…)
Perfect Food Pairing:
Jessica visits a local agua fresca vendor frequently on her way home from school, and I now need a refreshing and fresh fruit juice SO VERY BADLY.
One Perfect Page:
When Jessica finds and puts on her father's ring, she begins to realize that she's been hiding from life and that her father would never want her to do that. She feels the power in the ring and ventures outside her home for the first time in weeks. The page is simple, but the words and art both are super powerful, and the panels show the anguish Jessica's feeling in that moment while at the same time depicting the hopefulness that can come with one small step.
Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz Story by Lilliam Rivera and Steph C. is now available in bookstores, comic shops, libraries and as a digital graphic novel.
When Mandy Curtis isn’t reading books by Leigh Bardugo or Sarah J. Maas, she’s dreaming of busting bad guys with Wonder Woman—if Steve Trevor’s there, too, she won’t complain—and writing about YA fiction and pop culture at Forever Young Adult. Follow her on Twitter at @mandyannecurtis.
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