Set in a not-too-distant America where an unchecked President who advocates for hate is still in office, Sanctuary is an unsettling, often brutal, story of survival. In 2032, Americans are microchipped and tracked. Getting on the bus? You’re scanned. Going into school? You’re scanned. Some undocumented immigrants have underground chips that don’t always work: and when they malfunction, it’s bad news. Sixteen-year-old Vali and her mother are undocumented and living in Vermont. Vali’s parents crossed over into California when Vali was a toddler; her younger brother, Ernie, was born shortly after. Vali’s father was discovered, deported, and murdered, forcing Vali’s mother to flee, with her two young children, to Vermont. They’ve managed to create a life for themselves until a crackdown from the government’s Deportation Forces hits their town, sending them on the run once again. Vali’s mother’s chip malfunctions, and she’s taken away, forcing Vali and Ernie to head back toward California – a sanctuary state that’s been walled off from the rest of the United States – in the hope that their tía Luna is still alive and able to help them.
Sanctuary is a stressful, urgent, horrific book, because it’s a future that’s entirely plausible. The Wall exists in this future; people are empowered to openly hate and inform on one another, and Deportation Forces brutally enforce racist executive orders with relish. There are deportation camps in hidden areas, out of the public’s line of vision, where human beings are treated like animals, and drones hunt people down like prey. There are people all too willing to take advantage of desperation: coyotes, individuals paid to illegally transport others to California, steal and do worse. There are kind people, like the nun running an underground shelter for refugees, but they feel too few and far between. Vali is an incredible well of strength for her terrified younger brother. There are no wasted characters here: Paola Mendoza and Abby Sher create living, breathing characters that will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book and returned it to the shelf. With taut pacing and storytelling that will penetrate readers to the bone, Sanctuary is essential reading.
Sanctuary has starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal.