Official Review: Road to Delano by John DeSimone

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Brendan Donaghy
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Official Review: Road to Delano by John DeSimone

Post by Brendan Donaghy »

[Following is an official review of "Road to Delano" by John DeSimone.]
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3 out of 4 stars
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The Road to Delano by John DeSimone is a work of historical fiction set during the strike by Latino and Filipino grape pickers in Delano, California in the late 1960s. Led by Cesar Chavez, head of the National Farm Workers Association, the workers fought with grape growers for the right to decent pay and conditions.

The story opens in 1933. ‘Sugar’ Duncan is known as a gambler who can farm. He moves to Delano in California and wins enough money playing cards to buy himself a decent sized parcel of land. He builds a house and gets married to Shirley, who agrees to be his wife only on the condition that he gives up gambling, which he promises to do. Over the next few years, Sugar switches from farming wheat to growing grapes. By the time his son Jack is born, he is one of the leading producers in the area. When Jack is eight, Sugar drives to San Francisco to attend a meeting. He never comes home. His body is found in the wreck of his car following an evening spent drinking and gambling, according to reports.

Fast-forward to 1968. Shirley and Jack are still living in the house that Sugar built but their land has been sold. They are now facing the prospect of having to sell the house too. Jack is in his final year at high-school. A talented baseball player, he is determined to pitch his way to a university scholarship. His best friend and teammate, Adrian Sanchez, has similar ambitions. The biggest obstacle facing them is not any lack of talent, but the trouble in the fields around Delano. Jack has to save his house from being sold to the same neighbor who took his father’s land. There are also unexplained issues surrounding his father’s death that he needs to understand. Adrian, meanwhile, wants to support his own father, who is one of the Mexican pickers striking for better conditions. The baseball-shaped bubble that they have lived in from childhood is burst by events unfolding around them. Their lives are under threat. Will they survive to get their scholarships and take the road out of Delano?

This is a very good novel that held my attention throughout. The ages of the main characters and their girlfriends mean that the novel sometimes has the flavor of a high-school story. Certainly, there is a coming-of-age element to it, as the young protagonists come to terms with the fact that their trust in the law and the media is sometimes misplaced. This, however, is a fast-paced thriller with a social conscience. There are self-conscious echoes of other times, other writers; at one point Adrian makes the observation that the road to Delano is the same road taken by the Joad family, the characters in Steinbeck’s celebrated novel, The Grapes of Wrath. This theme of people crossing borders in search of a better life is one of several topical issues explored in the book. The role of the media in shaping a narrative is also highlighted, as is the sometimes difficult relationship between immigrant communities and the police.

The novel is told from a third-person point of view, mostly from Jack’s perspective. The author writes knowledgeably about the social and political conditions of this difficult period in California’s history. He also writes authoritatively about the other recurrent themes of the book, such as baseball and poker. If the book has a weakness, indeed, it is that the detailed descriptions of ball games or poker games may leave readers with little interest in those activities feeling a little lost.

I’m awarding this book three out of four stars. There are a few errors scattered around the book, but since I was reading an ‘Advanced Uncorrected Copy’, I would hope that these will be weeded out before the book goes on sale. I recommend it to readers who enjoy thrillers with a political slant. Those who enjoy baseball and Texas Hold’em poker will find it particularly enjoyable. Aside from a few swear words, the book is free of profanity and explicit sex, so it is suitable for young adults and over.

Road to Delano
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Post by xoxoAnushka »

I am definitely intrigued in this tale by reading your review. Well, this type of genre isn't my cup of tea but I do love your review.

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Post by Sheila_Jay »

Historical fictions are not my cup of tea, so I guess I will have to pass this one. Thank you for the great review.
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Post by esp1975 »

Sounds like a well-done piece of historical fiction. I love it when authors explore some of these more local bits of history that do have a huge impact on all of us.
I would probably get a little bored with the baseball bits, but since I play Texas Hold 'Em, would likely breeze through those explanations quickly.

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Post by Jaime Lync »

I am not too sure if this book would hold my interest for long because I feel like I know the plot of this story all too well, but your review makes a good job at making me want to sample it. Thanks for sharing.

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Post by Di_Rod55 »

Great review! I am a child from the 1950's so I understand all to well the incidence with the United Farm Workers Union and the efforts of Casar Chavez. Your description of this book peaks my interest to read this novel about my neighboring town of Delano.

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Post by Nisha Ward »

There's something about immigrant workers that just brings out some terrible truths of society, doesn't it? Given the time in which his death would have happened, the tensions surrounding Sugar would likely be high. That Jack and Adrian have formed a friendship despite this speaks highly to their characters, and I hope they made it out with that friendship intact.
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