Every day, thousands of young American citizens who live in Mexico cross the border into the U.S. to receive their education, from elementary school all the way to college. Their families endure early mornings, arduous commutes, long lines and stressful interactions with border agents, simply to make it to class on time. In his second novel, Brighter Than the Sun, author Daniel Aleman unpacks the consequences of splitting a life in two—and the joys of putting it back together.
For years, Sol Martinez would wake before dawn to travel from Tijuana, Mexico, to attend school in San Diego. Sol desperately wants to embody the shortened form of her name, which means sun, and not her full name, Soledad, which means solitude, but lately it’s been difficult for her to feel anything but isolated. She just moved in with a friend in the U.S. so that she could get a part-time job to help her family, whose business is failing.
Despite the money Sol earns at her warehouse job, and even with glimmers of hope like new friends and a connection with a kind, cute boy, the move seems to cause more problems than it solves. Sol feels cleaved from her family and pushed beyond exhaustion. She must endure racist behavior and her grades slip, threatening her dream of going to college. Increasingly, Sol wonders whether all her hard work and sacrifice will amount to nothing. “Deep down,” she thinks, “I wish I could return to a time when I could just let someone else carry all this weight for me. I wish I could be a child again, and not have to worry about anything.”
Aleman navigates Sol’s difficult experiences with nuance and a gentle touch. He imbues Sol with a steady resilience, even when she begins to feel guilt for enjoying her new life in the U.S. In his skilled hands, Sol bends but never breaks. After his acclaimed debut, Indivisible, Brighter Than the Sun affirms Aleman’s gift for telling the stories of Mexican and Mexican American teens with care and love.
Many young people in situations like Sol’s grapple with false binaries: Are you one of us or one of them? Will you stay or will you leave? Will you pursue your dreams or sacrifice them to help those you love? These impossible questions have no right answers, but Aleman’s sophisticated writing and tender storytelling remind us that there are no wrong answers either. Brighter Than the Sun is a healing and joyous read.