UCSB Reads: Reviewing “Into the Beautiful North”


Jack Shea

2017: a time of bleak hope for many people. Enter “Into the Beautiful North,” a book that opens up the reader to challenging obstacles with adventure, community, and hope.

Nayeli, niece of the first female municipal president of the village, fears for her village’s future, especially with drug dealers frequenting the commons to sell to visiting surfers. Most local men went north for work; consequently, Nayeli convinces her best friends, Yolo and Vampi, to help her find suitable men, including her father, to protect the village.

Coming from a small coastal village in Mexico, the best friends bravely endure the hostile conditions of border travel. The girls head northward to bring back men interested in both promoting a bright future for the village through protection, and who can offer more romantic interests for girls in the village, other than drug dealing thieves.

Luis Alberto Urrea illustrates the struggles faced by these women in a vivid work of art portraying the complications and unexpected troubles of life. Whether you are an immigrant or migrant, Urrea’s characters experience struggles that anyone can relate to. These struggles manifest in the purpose and direction sought by Urrea’s brave characters while figuring out paradoxical relationships with home and the consciousness, a struggle of exploration and community.

Making more friends throughout their journey, Nayeli, Yolo, Vampi, and Tacho (Nayeli’s other friend who owns a restaurant in the village) handle border politics, such as racism, sexism, and class discrimination. Without forgetting their values and reasoning for going north, they keep going because they care more about their community’s future than the possible consequences of taking on discriminatory challenges.

The story is, and will continue to be, very relevant to the University of California, Santa Barbara community, many of whom are immigrants themselves, friends of immigrants, or descendants of immigrants. Being at UCSB can be a struggle for financial, emotional, or other personal reasons. UCSB students can use Urrea’s literary journey as a revitalizing escape to remind themselves why they continue to embrace the constant struggle of surviving university life.

The help of Tacho, a queer man leaving the village with the girls to help them in their journey, proves that strong women and non-heterosexual men can handle challenges in any society. This is to say that Urrea illustrates a journey empowering women of color and queer people of color. By illustrating the unity of powerful women of color and a queer man of color, these friends are unafraid to challenge old issues with nothing but support from each other and their loved ones back home.

The youth had to be the solution. Urrea writes, “Nobody in the village liked change.” Growing up fast, Nayeli, Volo, and Vampi, with Tacho, had to be the change. By taking responsibility for themselves, their community, and their loved ones, their journey north demonstrates fearless leadership, even while being confronted with social and travel barriers trying to keep them from reaching their goals.

UCSB students should pick up a copy of Urrea’s book because of the importance of hope, fighting for what one believes in, and building community; all useful values for anyone still figuring out the next step after university, and perhaps why they are working hard to stay here at UCSB.  

After reading “Into the Beautiful North,” one sees, as Urrea writes, “the mysterious ways of the world” secondhand in an invigorating literary escape from 2017’s bitter start; providing readers with hope to keep pushing forward as Nayeli and her friends do throughout the book.

Perhaps the hope of Nayeli’s crew is in their ignorant youth; nevertheless, their hope vitalizes their journey into mature understanding of whom they are and what their home means to them. Going on the journey and being away from home revealed what matters to themselves as individuals, and the value of their village that could not seen before leaving.