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All the Way to Mexico

by Norma Charles

Jacob Armstrong, 12, is en route to Mexico with his brand-new stepbrothers, Barney and Sam, his older sister, Minerva, and his honeymooning mom, Rosalina, and her day-old husband, Fred Finkle. Jacob is willing to put up with Barney’s endless cow jokes, Sam’s action figures, his sister’s reggae music, and the constant smooching of the “lovebird honeymooners.” He just wants to get to Mexico, where he’s going to play soccer all day long, it being Mexico’s national sport and Jacob’s passion.

There’s plenty of tension as the new Armstrong/Finkle clan tries to blend – the Finkles aren’t used to the spicy Jamaican cooking of the Armstrongs, for example – but dune-buggy races, an illegal stash of firecrackers, and a dip in a natural hot spring help bridge the gaps between these two families as they make their way to sunny Mexico on an unforgettable honeymoon for six.

Behind the good humour and tight plotting of Norma Charles’s engaging new novel is a sensitive, thoughtful look at a landscape familiar to many contemporary kids whose parents find new partners. Seen primarily through Jacob’s eyes, the story explores the tensions that arise in this blended family. As Jacob comes to know the Finkle boys and their father over the course of the trip, his initial anger and antagonism slowly begin to change. By the novel’s end he’s willing to admit Barney and Sam as potential friends and gains some insight into his new stepfather as well. The writer deals nicely with the absent parents, giving a sense of the connections each child has (or hasn’t) with them.

Charles delicately portrays a mixed-race marriage, though so subtly that the clues won’t be obvious to most young readers – Minerva’s passion for reggae, Rosalina’s spicy cooking, a taste here and there of Jamaican dialect, and casual mentions of Fred’s pale white complexion and Rosalina’s dark brown one. The road trip scenario isn’t original but it adds welcome liveliness to this family drama.