With ‘Frontera’, Julio Anta and Jacoby Salcedo deliver a powerfully evocative and beautiful supernatural borderland adventure.
I am the son of immigrants. I owe the work ethic, educational opportunities, the chance to dream of a better life to my parents: Angel and Lourdes Alvarez. They heard of the “American Dream” and set off on a potentially dangerous journey to provide that for my siblings and me. I was born here in the United States and after an almost decade long process my parents received proper documentation. But many immigrants and first-generation kids never shake the politically fueled anxiety stemming from targeted policies courtesy of our elected scaremongers. It can feel like that trek across the desert never ends, but there are always moments and people along the way that inspire you to keep pushing.
The ability to capture the uncertainty and resilience of the migrant’s journey is what makes Frontera by Julio Anta (Home, Marvel Voices: Comunidades) and Jacoby Salcedo (It’s Only Teenage Wasteland, Young Men In Love) a necessary read for a glimpse into the Latino experience.
A journey full of emotional vulnerability and natural beauty.
Frontera follows Mateo Renteria, who at a young age immigrated with his family from Mexico to the United States, but later gets deported due to their undocumented status. Determined to get their son back to the United States in time for his final year of high school, Mateo’s parents save up enough money to pay a “coyote” to guide him through the Sonoran desert and back to Phoenix, Arizona to live with his grandmother.
After a bus ride and getting through a checklist made for him by his parents, Mateo meets up with his coyote Juan Xavier, another boy not much older than him who breaks the news that they might have to hold off their trip due to heavy Border Patrol activity. Anxiety over missing the first day of school leads a stubborn Mateo to run off on his own where he’s quickly spotted by Border Patrol agents. A frantic foot chase leads Mateo completely off course.
Help in the unlikeliest of places.
Luckily he meets Guillermo, a migrant whose dream came to an unfortunate end in that unforgiving desert heat. Guillermo’s ghost has been tethered to the Sonoran desert for over half a century. It is through him where the story is able to travel through time and we see Guillermo’s story of love and loss, as well as the fates of the people he has tried to help along the way.
Julio Anta’s character work is as poignant as ever here. There’s a particularly heartbreaking scene early on where Mateo’s mother is saying her goodbyes and there is a voiced acceptance that she and Mateo’s father may never see him again. Like in his previous book, Home, the dialogue throughout is grounded and easily conveys the emotions necessary for the reader to understand the plight and consequences of Mateo’s journey. The scene is a swift punch to the gut, so much so that it compelled me to call my mom just to see what she was up to.
That authenticity in those moments serve to balance the supernatural elements of this adventure story. As in our meeting of Guillermo’s ghost, whose own journey becomes a focal point of the book, and when we are introduced to a jaguar named El Jefe, whose appearance is a nice nod to Mesoamerican reverence of the feline. It is in the authentic moments that Julio and Jacoby beautifully illustrate a life full of aspirations, longing, and a love for Guillermo that reveals a welcome twist to stories of this vein.
Jacoby Salcedo flexes as ‘Frontera’ is full of warm and vibrant washes capturing the heat and hostility of the Sonoran desert.
Anta and Salcedo are no strangers to working together and that creative partnership really shines in the art of Frontera. Salcedo’s panels are minimalistic yet chock full of expression and colors that highlight both the emotional depth and action in a given scene. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Jason Wordie’s color work. When soaking in the art, those sweeping, panoramic landscapes showcase the danger and beauty of the terrain. A recurring shot of Mateo looking back during pivotal moments quickly became one of my favorite uses of imagery in the story.
We can’t press forward if we don’t look back. Our experiences, the people we meet and those we have lost, shape us and every once in a while a book comes around that reminds us of this universal truth. As the son of immigrants Frontera was that book for me, but it can also be that book for anyone who wants to understand that experience. Frontera is a book that respects the YA audience it’s written for while showcasing a depth that older audiences can also latch on to.
Published by HarperAlley, Frontera is out July 18th in bookstores and available July 19th in comic shops. Make sure to pick up a copy of this soon-to-be modern classic!
Editor’s note: Be sure to tune into The House of Nerd Show, Sunday July 16th. Why? Because Julio & Jacoby are stopping by to talk about Frontera!
Editor’s note (the sequel): Enjoy YA content? Well then check out Carlo’s review for Under Kingdom!
Editor’s note (let’s make it a trilogy): You can now watch our interview with Julio and Jacoby below!