Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Iguana Tree by Michel Stone — 220 pgs

Lilia and Hector live in a small village in Mexico, though Hector has other dreams for his family’s future. Leaving Lilia behind, Hector embarks on a risky illegal journey to America under the dangerous protection of a coyote who will smuggle him across the border. Hector plans to arrive first and set up a life for his wife and infant daughter and then send for the two as soon as possible. Hector’s crossing is both unpleasant and frightening, but when he finally makes it to the U.S., he quickly finds a new job and shelter awaiting him. But Lilia, not content to wait on Hector’s plans, unwittingly accepts help from an old friend of a dubious nature. What happens to Lilia and her child as they cross from Mexico to America is tragic, horrifying and bewildering. Meanwhile, Hector, knowing nothing of Lilia’s new plans, is slowly gaining the trust and respect of his employer, who wishes to help him start a new life. When Lilia calls him saying that she has indeed crossed the border, Hector is both furious and heartbroken by the fate that his wife and daughter have suffered. Things have now gone seriously awry, and their small family will never be the same again. With broken hearts and damaged souls they struggle forward, making their painful way in America, until one day an unthinkable tragedy threatens to devastate their new lives. In this haunting and provocative new novel of one family’s struggle to live new lives of opportunity and prosperity in America, Michel Stone submerges her readers in a world of the vivid horror and dangerous treachery of a journey across the border.

I was thrilled to get a chance to read this book because it’s published by one of my favorite publishers, Hub City Press. About a year ago I wrote a post about the awesome Hub City Books and their truly innovative store and small press. Their wonderful manager, Erin, sent this book along to me and assured me that it was an incredible read, and I’m pleased to say that I agree fully. In this spare novel, Stone manages to capture all the intensity and drama in a book that I was unable to put down. It’s also a story rooted in a reality that I don’t think many Americans who speak about illegal immigration ever really consider. It is a book of extreme importance and undeniable impact.

When Hector leaves his family behind, he is secure in the knowledge that he will one day be reunited with them, which makes his dark and twisted journey somewhat more bearable. He leaves Lilia and his newborn daughter behind with a heavy heart but knows that he must save in order to employ a safe and reliable coyote for them to cross. Though optimistic, Hector is also pragmatic, and his journey towards the land of opportunity is one that is initially fraught with a tension that gradually morphs into a steady and sustaining life that will enable him to realize his plans for his family’s future. Hector is smart and resourceful, quickly gaining allies and friends, and soon becomes indispensable to his employer. As he toils away day after day, he dreams of the day that he will be reunited with his fledgling family. Hector believes that the worst is over and that he can create a life for them that is safe and secure. He believes that a sunny future awaits them in this new place.

Lilia is not as patient as her situation requires, and due an unplanned circumstance, she feels she must move quickly. As she rushes to join Hector, she unwittingly puts herself and her daughter in the hands of a coyote that is not to be trusted. Her crossing is brutal and violent and she comes to America having lost much that she can’t replace. My heart broke for Lilia and her suffering, and in only a few moments the light and freedom that resided inside her was gone. This drove a further wedge between herself and her husband, who is already embittered by her decision to entrust her crossing to a stranger. It’s Lilia’s naïveté and innocence that become liabilities to be manipulated and exploited in her journey, and she arrives a broken shell, altered both inwardly and out, to her new home in South Carolina.

Stone has a way of making her characters extremely vulnerable while not robbing them of their sincerity or hope, which makes the plights of Hector and Lilia all the harder to assimilate. The originality of this book and the knowing voice in which the narrative is imparted forces even hardened readers to look deeper into the plight of illegal immigrants and to put names and characteristics to these precious people who are treated as a commodity. It’s a hard tale to read, but it’s honest, raw and powerful. The chances these characters take are mirrored into infinity every day by those who seek to better themselves and live lives of consequence and meaning in America. The statements that this book makes are not to be squandered or overlooked.

Though it’s hard to say that I loved a book that was mired in tragedy, I was completely awestruck by Stone’s incredible narrative voice. It’s a tremendously moving and carefully constructed book overflowing with pathos, and it chilled me to the bone. This is an important book that needs to be read by many, and in her attempt to tell the story of one small family, Stone manages to capture the heartrending plights of hundreds, if not thousands. A viscerally enveloping read. Highly recommended.

Author Photo About the Author

Michel Stone has published more than a dozen stories and essays in journals, magazines, and books. Her work has appeared numerous times in the Raleigh News and Observer’s emerging Southern writers series and she is a 2011 recipient of the SC Fiction Project Award. Raised on the South Carolina coast, Michel now lives in Spartanburg, S.C.

To learn more about The Iguana Tree, visit the publisher's website,, or visit Michel's website,

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Monday, April 2nd:Luxury Reading
Wednesday, April 4th:Book Chase
Thursday, April 5th:Life in Review
Monday, April 9th:Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, April 10th:The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Wednesday, April 11th:The Picky Girl
Thursday, April 12th:Indie Reader Houston
Friday, April 13th:Raging Bibliomania
Monday, April 16th:Book Addiction
Wednesday, April 18th:Colloquium
Thursday, April 19th:Jenn’s Bookshelves
Monday, April 23rd:Book Club Classics!
Tuesday, April 24th:Estella’s Revenge
Wednesday, April 25th:Book Chatter
Monday, April 30th:Suko’s Notebook

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

This sounds like it would be so tragic!

Ana S. said...

I love the sound of this - especially because it's a story about people the media so often dehumanises.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I loved the sound of this, because every once in while a story like this just makes me appreciate my life all the more. Excellent review.

Beth F said...

This sounds very powerful and sad. I'll add to my list; maybe something to read in the summer.

bermudaonion said...

I really liked this book too. I have to say that Lilia infuriated me with some of her actions - I was yelling at her not to do what she did. I generally don't like open-ended endings but thought it worked well in this case.

Jennifer | Mrs Q Book Addict said...

This one sounds really good. I'll have to add it to my wish list.

ImageNations said...

This is the second review I've read of this book. I like the premise and everything. It is her impatience and the risk she took that fascinates me. Is it out of love or just to be on that seeming promise Land? Interesting review. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I am glad you liked this one so much because I have heard such good things about it. I must admit, I am not familiar with Hub City Books but you have certainly piqued my interest!

Buried In Print said...

This sounds like a very powerful story, indeed; even though such demanding reads can really take it out of you as a reader, I can't imagine not reading stories just because they are disturbing. Those are the stories that help to change the world we live in!

Amy said...

This sounds like a powerful read. Thanks for this fantastic review.

Suko said...

Wonderful review! I'll be reading this later in the month, and I'm glad to know that the author does such a superb job.

Ti said...

My review posts around the 25th (can't remember). I had a completely different take on it. Uh oh.

Anonymous said...

I really loved this one too. Excellent review Heather, you said many things I agree with completely.

Brooke said...

Seen lots of great things about this one! Will add to my TBR list immediately. Great review, Heather!

Darlene said...

I wish I had the time to be on this tour because this book interested me. I'm glad to see it was a good read for you Heather.

Jenners said...

This sounds like a captivating and heart-breaking read. It is on my radar now. Thanks!

Lisa said...

Isn't it wonderful to find a small press that you know will always put a great book in your hands?!

geosi said...

I am keen to see how the tragedy played out in this book. Thanks.

Harvee said...

This reminds me of a thriller with a similar setting and circumstance, Illegal by Paul Levine, who writes legal thrillers.

Jenny said...

I love when an author can show us the plight of a population through the experiences of one family. This book sounds fascinating and thought provoking to me, though sad as well! This is on my list of books to read for sure!

Athira said...

I really want to read this one! I'm intrigued by the whole topic of this book and this was one of my options for my Blogger Recommends feature this month. So glad that you recommend it.

Andi said...

I'm coming up on the 24th and need to get myself in gear to review it. I'm thrilled that you liked it so and that bodes well for my thoughts on this one.

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

You've convinced me - this is a MUST read for me!

Thanks for being on the tour.

Audra said...

I loved reading your review; as time has gone on, I've found myself for frustrated with this book, especially the ending. Seeing your passion and enthusiasm for it is making me chew over what I'm getting cranky about (so thank you!). I enjoyed the locale of South Carolina for this one as I think folks can often think of immigration as a Texas or California issue only.

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