National Endowment of the Arts - The Big Read
Into the Beautiful North

Into the Beautiful North

by Luis Alberto Urrea

…I always hopelessly, passionately, root for the underdog.


  1. In the novel, Nayeli and her friends go north–but not to join the ranks of immigrants looking for a better life. What is their mission?
  2. Though the border seems far away from Tres Camarones, its influence seems closer than ever before. What forces are driving change in Tres Camarones? What are some examples of traditional aspects of life in Tres Camarones that are affected by border politics?
  3. How does the author portray intergenerational relationships among the characters? How do different generations interact in the novel and what do they offer or teach each other?
  4. Many people (including Nayeli and her friends) have never seen a place like the Tijuana garbage dump. How does Urrea use descriptive language to help the reader visualize and interpret the significance of this sight?
  5. Urrea often takes a comic approach to tragedy. Does this approach enhance or diminish the emotional impact of events in the novel?
  6. Urrea’s border is a many–layered symbol, holding multiple meanings, cultural subtleties, and contradictions. In addition to the literal U.S.–Mexico border, what other types of borders or boundaries do the characters experience?
  7. Urrea underlines the novel’s connection to other classic quest narratives by paying homage to the classic film The Magnificent Seven. The author creates his own interpretation of the quest narrative, subverting traditional themes and roles. How does he create a fresh approach to the classic hero’s tale?
  8. How do Nayeli’s experiences in Kankakee differ from her expectations? Why do you think she leaves Kankakee without confronting her father? Do you agree with her decision?
  9. Did any scene, character, or event in the novel surprise you or change your attitude toward U.S.–Mexico border relations?
  10. Urrea has often described the novel as "a love letter to the United States." Do you agree? How is this love conveyed in the novel? Could the novel also be considered a "love letter" to Mexico?

"I’m a magpie picking up shiny objects to take back to the nest all day long. I write with the ghosts of 12 authors, 13 movie directors, 14 musicians, and Steve McQueen in the room."
—Luis Alberto Urrea
One Book, One San Diego interview

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