Sunday, August 1, 2010

"Hailey’s War"

Jodi Compton is the author of the acclaimed novel The 37th Hour, which features Detective Sarah Pribek.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Hailey’s War, and reported the following:
Let me give you the simple and direct summary first. Hailey Cain was dismissed from West Point for a reason she won’t talk about. She’s making her living as a bike messenger on the crazy streets of San Francisco, when she gets a call from an old friend in Los Angeles, Serena Delgadillo. The police know Serena as ‘Warchild’, head of the Trece Sucias, an East L.A. gang. Serena needs a favor: she needs someone to drive a Mexican-born girl, Nidia Hernandez, home to the Sierra Madre to care for a sick grandmother. Hailey takes on the job, but she and her charge are ambushed by armed men in a narrow mountain tunnel, and Hailey is nearly killed. Once she’s back on her feet and back in the States, finding Nidia -- and answers, and justice -- become her mission.

I think of this book -- the main storyline, at least -- as a combination of two classic plots: the ‘failed bodyguard’ story (hero has to redeem himself/herself after trying but failing to protect an innocent) and ‘loner defies a powerful mobster’ (that probably needs no explanation). But on top of that simple frame, I layered a number of things which preoccupied me back in 2006: gang life and culture; the Latin language, the short but fascinating Biblical book of Jonah, and the colorful, inarticulate, endearing young people of California.

On page 69, you’re at an El Paso motel with Hailey and Nidia. They’ll cross the border the next day, but Hailey is getting a sense of oddness off Nidia and her need to go back to rural Mexico, and calls Serena to talk about it. It’s here that you’re getting a sense that all is not what it seems with the ‘simple job’ of Hailey driving Nidia across the border.

Page 69:
... it seemed to me that Nidia’s family was abandoning her to indefinite life in Mexico. Was that so bad? Maybe I was being an American chauvinist. Except there was a reason so many Mexicans, including Nidia’s parents, had come to El Norte. I wondered why Nidia’s mother hadn’t taken it on herself to go back and take care of her ailing mother, instead of sacrificing the hopes and dreams of a daughter just on the cusp of adulthood.

“Nidia,” I said, picking up my cell phone, “I’ll be back in a minute, okay?”

I went out to the pool area -- it was deserted now, though the water glowed an inviting turquoise -- and made a call.

Serena picked up on the third ring. “Hailey, what’s up?” she said. “Where are you? Mexico?”

“We’re still in Texas,” I said. “Listen, I’m getting a funny feeling about this.”

“What’s wrong?”

“What do you really know about this family?” I said. “Did you know any of them except Teaser?”

“Why? What’s wrong?” she repeated.

I sat down on a chaise, still looking at the calm water of the pool. “Well, Nidia’s only nineteen,” I said. “Once she crosses the border, who knows if she’ll ever get back? Most Mexican parents who bring their families across do so at great risk, so their kids can have better lives. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense that they’re forcing her to go back.”

“Maybe it makes sense because their grandma is sick and needs help,” she said. “Mexicans are very family-oriented, and --”

“No. No way,” I said. “Don’t even start with that you’re-white-you-wouldn’t-understand rap....”
Read the opening pages of Hailey’s War, a Q & A with the author, and more on Jodi Compton's website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue