Title: The Road to Delano
Author: John DeSimone
Genre: Historical Fiction
The Road to Delano follows high school senior and baseball star Jack Duncan as his life is suddenly turned upside down when he receives information that his father, once a prominent grape grower in central California, was murdered. This isn’t the story his mother has told him for the past ten years, so Jack must now try to find the truth in a small town that’s riddled by unscrupulous rich growers and law enforcers amidst union strikers led by Cesar Chevaz. With his best friend, Adrian, by his side, Jack must learn how to play a mean game of cards, like his late father, and realize that the values of nonviolence speak louder than violence in the tumultuous year of 1968.
The 1960s was indeed a time of upheaval and change for America, and DeSimone’s historical novel displays a slice of that time period that is overlooked. The in-depth research he undertook to write a realistic display of what was going on between the Mexican field workers and the rich farm owners shines through. When violence resorts to tragic beatings and death when people are simply asking for fair wages and decent housing, the author sheds light on the darker side of humanity, a side we need to remember. For this reason alone, this novel is worth reading. As historical peacemaker Cesar Chavez said, “When you take dignity away from people, you take more than education can restore.” Chavez is a minor character in the novel, but his influence is everywhere.
Jack, a young man bent on revenge, is painted with Chavez’s message, and it’s beautiful. His character transforms from a naive boy who wants to escape to college with a baseball scholarship, to a misguided, jaded person who can’t trust his next-door neighbor or the cops, to a mature young man who sees that goodness and mercy go much further than hatred. The author has painstakingly created three-dimensional characters, including Jack’s best friend, Adrian, whose father is a Mexican striker. Their friendship transcends the surface high-fives and hanging out of teenage boys, to the point where the reader is left wiping away a tear.
In addition to vibrant historical details and strong characters, DeSimone lays out the rules of how to play cards, how these games go beyond the simple and are a metaphor for life. A person needs to know when to stop, when to give in, when to keep fighting, and who to trust.
While the realism of the time period is sure to be appreciated by lovers of historical fiction, not to mention those who enjoy a good ball game or poker night, the narrative runs a bit long at 122,000 words. Perhaps some of the card or baseball game scenes could be shortened to keep the flow moving steadily, but this is a minor point. The overall narrative is rich with setting details, strong characters, and timeless themes.
The Road to Delano is a historical narrative that will stand the test of time. Its messages of nonviolence being stronger than violence remind us of the great need to choose the higher moral ground, especially during harrowing times of unrest. DeSimone’s novel tells a classic story of the strength of friendship and how the choices we make every day pave life’s path.
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