Hiram College

About "Into the Beautiful North"

About Into the Beautiful North" and Luis Alberto Urrea

The Novel

Into the Beautiful North is a novel by Luis Alberto Urrea, published in 2009. It tells the story of Nayeli, a nineteen-year-old girl coming of age in the sleepy Mexican village of Tres Camarones, more than 1000 miles south of the U.S. border. She and her friends spend their days working at low-wage jobs and surfing the internet for videos of their favorite bands and movie stars, dreaming of a wider world they have little hope of knowing. Nearly all of the men of the village–including Nayeli’s father–have gone north to the U.S. to find work, and drug-dealing thugs have recently begun to target the village, eager to profit from American surfers who frequent the nearby beaches. Inspired by the film The Magnificent Seven, Nayeli vows to go on a mission to the U.S. to bring back seven men–including her father–to defend Tres Camarones against the drug-dealing bandidos. She persuades her loyal band of friends to accompany her on the dangerous journey across the border, and the quest begins. Lacking money, influence, or power, Nayeli and her friends employ ingenuity, youthfulness, and hope to overcome obstacles, suggesting that a new generation can bring new solutions to old problems. Urrea cleverly subverts cultural stereotypes and literary traditions, creating a fresh approach to the classic hero’s journey.

Read the NEA’s Big Read overview of Into the Beautiful North here.

The Author

Luis Alberto Urrea has published thirteen books of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, his book The Devil’s Highway tells the true story of Mexican immigrants lost in the Arizona desert. His novel The Hummingbird’s Daughter is a historical novel based on Urrea’s great-aunt, an illegitimate woman who learned to be a healer in 1800s Mexico and eventually became a folk saint to the Mexican people. The Queen of America is Urrea’s sequel to The Hummingbird’s Daughter. Urrea has also published a graphic novel with Christopher Cardinale called Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush. It depicts the town of Rosario, Mexico, on which the fictional town of Tres Camarones in Into the Beautiful North is based.

Urrea was born in 1955 in Tijuana to an American mother and Mexican father, and his books regularly focus on the tensions of dual identities and on the borders between these nations. He studied writing at the University of California at San Diego and then did graduate work at the University of California at Boulder. Before turning to teaching, he worked as a relief worker in Tijuana, wrote for many publications, and starred as a film extra. He has taught writing at the University of Colorado, Massachusetts Bay Community College, Harvard University, and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He current teaches at the University of Illinois at Chicago and lives in Naperville, Illinois.

Read the NEA’s Big Read biography of Luis Alberto Urrea here.

Watch an interview with Luis Alberto Urrea here.