This is the story of a boy of about fifteen who travels through Mexico to the borders of the USA. Set in the 1990` s, at the beginning of the story the main character, Santiago Molina, reflects on his early life in a small village near the town of San Cristobal de las Casas in the east of Mexico. Soldiers have killed his father, his older sister has run off with a boyfriend, and now tensions between himself and his mother have caused him also to set off on the long trip to the States. After walking for several weeks he reaches Mexico City, where he is beaten up by a gang and then by the police after being arrested for stealing. Eventually, he is found by an unexpected benefactor who turns out to be a leading barrister and campaigner for justice, and who takes him home to his family and his large estate. Santiago is happy but leaves after venturing back into Mexico City to shoot the police officer who assaulted and abused him. The police are now after him. On reaching Nogales he joins in with the kids who live in one of the floodwater tunnels running below the city of this border town. The girl he is in love with is drowned in a flash flood. To start a new life he has to get to the end of the tunnel, on the other side of the border.
From the San Francisco Book Review:
Composed in beautiful, sensual, and lyrical language, Tunnel Kids by Werner J. Egli is an engaging story of Santiago Molina, a fifteen-year-old boy who leaves his small village near San Cristobal de las Casas and travels to Mexico City to start a new life. But his journey doesn’t end in Mexico City because Mexico is just another stop that propels him further toward the United States.
The story starts with a powerful, disquieting memory and reminiscences from the narrator’s childhood, including the inciting incident of Sta Claus whom the author describes as a gringo and his attempt to touch his elder sister improperly. The narrative moves on pretty fast and different conflicts are introduced. The author’s father is killed. His sister runs off and, unable to live in peace with his mother, he runs off to start a new life abroad. But as soon as he reaches Mexico City, things go awry for him. He is beaten by a gang and the police and arrested for robbery, but a kind man of justice takes him to his opulent home. The protagonist is fueled by a sense of revenge and goes after the police officer who abused him. But he finds himself in a place where there is no life, the floodwater tunnel of Nogales, where many children live and where he falls in love and loses the love of his life to the cold hands of the flood. To survive, he will have to travel to the end of the tunnel.
Tunnel Kids is a wonderful story, told in a powerful, clear, and exciting voice. The story is told in first-person narrative, and the author seems to have a unique mastery of this narrative style. The beautiful prose is enticing, featuring very powerful descriptions that capture the setting and the culture in vivid detail and clarity. I enjoyed the emotional insights and the psychological depth of the story as well as the internal conflict. The protagonist is a character who readers will love. It is also interesting to notice how the themes of love, family, death, crime, and adventure are seamlessly woven into the story. It’s a page-turner, an exciting and delightful read.