It is a lament for what a broken immigration system does to families, and its final third is a riveting, heartbreaking exploration of one such case ... His lyrical asides about the border, from the history of its creation to quotations of poets who've written about it, are passionately delivered and speak to his urge to give nameless migrants an identity. But he spends less time scrutinizing the institutions that create the namelessness. His discussion of the Mexican government's bloody escalation of the war against the cartels only glancingly mentions the U.S. government's implication in it or the way border crackdowns only made crossing the border more expensive and risky.
The imperfection of Cantú's approach, though, mirrors the messiness of the crisis he's facing.
His subsequent confessions take the form of vignettes that range in length from a paragraph to several pages and mimic the desert landscape he patrols: haunting but elegant, with glimmers of humor for reprieve ... emotional ambiguity is the book’s chief flaw ... Call it soul-repair, call it atonement, but it is quenching indeed when Cantú turns this empathetic tide back to the migrants in the final section of the book ... The lines on the map have morphed into a river that nearly drowns him. The achievement of this book is how deftly Cantú reels us in, cold and wet behind him.
In an often raw and timely confessional, the former Fulbright fellow and Pushcart Prize winner paints a striking picture of the unsparing borderlands ... Cantú's writing is engaging and straightforward. At times, it is achingly lyrical ... Cantú's portrait of Mexico as the backdrop for border crossings comes to feel too unrelentingly bleak — all mutilated bodies, crushing poverty and crumbling towns. Some readers might lose patience with the author's conflicted feelings about a job he stuck with for years. But if they are interested in life on a border that has recently occupied an outsize role in policy debates, they will learn a lot.