Sanctuary by Paola Mendoza & Abby Sher

This one was hard to read. The characters in this novel experience such heartbreaking hardship! 

Sanctuary is set in a dystopian future. This setting is a bit more terrifying than your typical novel of this kind, because it seems all too close to reality.

Vali, her Mami, and Papi escaped the dangers of their homeland and entered the U.S. as illegal immigrants. Prior to the book’s timeline her Papi was arrested, returned to Columbia, and then murdered. Now Mami works very hard to keep food on the table and and their immigration status hidden. In Vali’s world, all U.S. citizens are microchipped, and those chips could be scanned at any time by militant enforcers. When a huge crackdown on illegal immigration is instituted, Vali and her family are forced to run. 

This story will rip your heart out. The authors do not hold back in describing the violence and indignities the characters are forced to endure. Reading this caused me to consider how easily Americans might come to justify holocaust-like treatment of humans when they are defined as an “Other”. The reader will put their own problems in context and likely find much of what we worry about do not compare the concerns of people around the world looking for a safe haven, clothing, food, and water.

More Resources

When reading about protagonists from a different culture, it is fun to research the foods mentioned in the story. Food is such an important part of society, family, culture. Families often have favorite recipes that are associated with important memories and events. Finding out more about what the protagonists are cooking helps to bring the story to life. Here are some Columbian recipes from Sanctuary:

Hauevos Pericos

This Columbian recipe is scrambled eggs with tomatoes, cheese, and scallions. Since food supplies are limited the family is grateful to be able to cook this comforting meal.


The blog Sweet y Salado explains that ” For us Colombians the arepa is an essential ingredient of every dish in our country. We eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, with eggs, butter, meat, bacon, as a side dish for soups, stews, beans, in short, we eat it daily and to many, if their plate does not come with the blessed arepa, they’re not satisfied.” In Sanctuary Ernie, Vali, and Mami eat arepas with ajiaco.


This is a traditional Columbian chicken and potato soup.

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