Crossing the Wire: Book Summary & Characters

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

This lesson explore the story and characters in Will Hobbs' 2006 novel 'Crossing the Wire.' We will learn about the conflicts, struggles, and outcomes of our two main characters, Victor and Rico, as they attempt to cross the border from Mexico into the U.S.

The Other 'Side' of the Story

You might be familiar with the politics and current events aimed at illegal immigrants. Well, in Crossing the Wire (2006) Will Hobbs confronts the harsh and inhumane treatment of South and Central American migrants during their attempts to enter the United States.

In the context of current immigration issues, Crossing the Wire offers a prescient and heartfelt story. This novel, written for middle school readers, dramatizes the journey of teenagers Victor Flores and Rico Rivera who leave Mexico for the dream of a better life north of the border.

Mexico-U.S. border map, Nogales marked in red.

Journey to El Norte

Rico has ferreted away more than 16,000 pesos to pay the coyotes; wayfarers who herald South and Central American migrants across the U.S. border. Rico goes to meet the coyote, Fortino, at the bus station in Silao. Against better judgment, Victor decides to follow him. Rico and Victor become mojados (wetbacks). The name derives from illegal immigrants who have attempted to swim across Rio Grande river into the U.S.


On the bus to Guadalajara, Victor meets 'Sleepy Eye' (AKA Miguel). He looks to be in his early 30s and is disheveled, tall, and skinny. Victor pegs Miguel as a 'Lone Wolf', an experienced border crosser. On their way to Nogales, the bus stops at a checkpoint. Victor gets spooked and ditches the bus. He hops onto a train instead.


The train is headed to Nogales, Mexico. In the car, Victor meets Julio, a boy about his age, who has traveled from Honduras. Victor thinks,'You have to be really crazy, really stupid, or really poor to cross the border without a coyote.' This is Julio's second time crossing. The first time, he went to visit his aunt and uncle in Texas. He worked for five months on their farm until he was deported by 'La Migra' (immigration police).

Hopping the train

Border Towns, Border Crossings

Julio and Victor spend four days in Nogales looking for work and avoiding the cholos. The cholos, or gangs, live in and control the tunnels. But then, an opportunity arises. A torrential storm sets down upon Nogales, flooding the tunnels. The cholos evacuate. Julio mounts an inner tube and rides across the US border. Victor is petrified. If the grate on the other side is locked, they would drown!

Back in Nogales, Victor reunites with Miguel. Miguel had crossed the border but was beaten up by pretty badly by American vigilantes. Now, he hobbles through the streets and continues to avoid the cholos. Surreptitiously, Victor follows Miguel to the bus station, boards a bus destined to Agua Prieta, and disembarks at an unscheduled stop somewhere near Douglas, Arizona. Miguel isn't happy that he's being followed, but the 'Lone Wolf' shows Victor the way out of pity.

Destination, La Pena Flaca

Miguel tells Victor about La Perra Flaca, a kind of outpost for illegal immigrants just east of Tuscon. The illegals called it 'The Skinny Dog'. La Perra Flaca was a place where mojados lived ten or fifteen to a trailer and were met every morning by labor contractors who took them to work on farms.

Victor follows Miguel over mountains and across valleys. Along the way, Miguel opens up to Victor. He first came to El Norte eight years ago at the age of 19 and has crossed the border three times since then.

As they are crossing the valley near the city of Apache, La Migra catch up with Miguel once more. Victor must continue solo. Victor climbs Chiricahua Peak and descends to a small lake. He stows away in a fisherman's pickup but is soon discovered and taken into the custody of La Migra. Victor catches a quick glimpse of Tuscon from the patrol car window before being thrown on a bus back to Nogales.

Rico's Story

It's now April in Nogales. Victor holds up at a parish at the Port of Entry. To his astonishment -- he spots Rico!

Rico had hired a famous coyote named Fortino. They took a bus to Sonoyta and crossed the border into Arizona's Organ Pipe Cactus National Park. Rico describes how the coyotes treated their passengers like 'pollos' (cooked chickens). That's why the mojados called their guides 'polleros' (chicken wranglers).

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