Susan Straight

Highwire Moon

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Highwire Moon Summary

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Highwire Moon is a work of realistic fiction by Susan Straight. It chronicles the life of a Mexican Indian woman named Serafina who crosses the border illegally to look for work to help support her and her daughter Elvia. The story follows both Serafina and her daughter Elvia, left behind in America, as they seek each other across the desolate borderlands of Southern California.
The book opens with Serafina, who has recently taken the treacherous walk across the now hotly contested US/Mexico border to find work in California. She is Mexican Indian, and has few prospects in her home country. She quickly finds work at a linen company, but the company is targeted by ICE only days after her arrival. Lucky for Serafina, she is rescued and taken under the wing of a handsome truck driver named Larry, who saves her from being immediately deported. Larry, though, has some challenges of his own.
Larry gives Serafina a safe home, and though Serafina is young when she crosses the border, the two fall in love and Larry fathers Serafina’s daughter, Elvia. The two live together in a state of relative chaos for the first three years of Elvia’s life. Larry, though kind-hearted, is also a drunk, and frequently disappears to go on drinking binges. Larry is also not particularly sensitive to Serafina’s native customs and language, and frequently mocks her for her inability to speak English, and the rural way of life to which she is accustomed.
After three years together, Serafina makes the decision to leave with Elvia in order to protect them both from Larry’s cruelty and drinking. Larry is not home, and she takes his car to go to the church to pray to the saints for guidance. Unfortunately, she can’t get the car to work properly, and accidentally runs the car into a nearby ditch with Elvia in the backseat. The police are called to the scene of the accident and forcibly remove Serafina from the car. Unable to communicate to them that her baby is in the back, Serafina is deported and Elvia is left behind, alone.
The novel then fast-forwards about twelve years, to the spunky and rambunctious, though dedicated fifteen-year-old Elvia. Elvia was shuttled from foster home to foster home as a child, and had a difficult upbringing around drugs, violence, and financial insecurity. Elvia is on her own until Larry, who has been missing since Serafina left the country, comes to claim Elvia and take her in as his own. Unfortunately, Larry hasn’t changed much in the more than a decade since he mistreated Serafina and caused her to flee. Larry has good intentions of raising his child in a safer and more secure home, but his drinking and the skeletons in his closet prove too much for both him and Elvia to manage.
The main crux of the plot comes when Elvia makes the decision to find her mother. This comes after she discovers that she has become pregnant. Thinking of her own young mother making her trek to America, and pregnant at a young age, she begins to dream about finding the woman that she believes abandoned her. At the same time, Serafina has been in Mexico yearning to be with her daughter. The narrative interweaves the travels of Serafina and Elvia as they cross the border to find each other, all the while conquering their own personal demons, guilt, and fear about being separated forever by the political lines between nations.
Along the way, Elvia witnesses camps of migrant worker and the slums of Tijuana, among other difficult-to-stomach atrocities. She sees the violence, desperation, and desolation of the land that her mother crossed to escape her own life in Mexico, and begins to understand her personal history better than ever before.

Susan Straight is the author of a number of novels, short fiction, essays, and books for young readers. Her most recent books include Between Heaven and Here, and Take One Candle Light a Room. Her work has also been featured in Best American Short Stories 2003, and the O. Henry Prize for Short Stories 2007. Straight has won many awards, including a Lannan Literary Award and the 2013 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. A white author, Straight’s book frequently deal with issues of race and racial conflict in America, particularly among black and Hispanic protagonists. Highwire Moon was nominated for the National Book Award for Fiction when it was published in 2001.