Review by: Lauren Humphrey

Online Student Advising and Support

University of Bridgeport

[email protected]

In the nonfiction novel, Spare Parts, author Joshua Davis chronicled the experiences of Luis Aranda, Oscar Vazquez, Lorenzo Santillan, and Cristian Arcega.  Except for Luis, who was a green card holder, they were undocumented.  Their immigration statuses were central to the story which focused on the period of their lives while they were members of the robotics team at Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, Arizona.  Advisors will gain insights into the challenges faced by undocumented students by reading about the robotics team’s real-life struggles and successes portrayed in Spare Parts.

Spare Parts was a David and Goliath story.  Like the biblical parable, it warns readers not to underestimate the underdog.  Despite the obstacles they faced as undocumented students from an underfunded school in the middle of the desert, the high school robotics team decided to enter a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) competition against premiere research institutions like Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  Due to lack of resources, the high schoolers developed innovative solutions to the ROV competition’s challenges.  The simplicity of their materials and ingenuity of their techniques served them well in the competition.  Thus, perceived disadvantages instead were advantages.  Likewise, advisors often help their advisees reframe negative perceptions.

Indeed, this type of revision is a technique of narratological advising in which advisors help advisees create meaning from their own stories (Hagen & Trama, 2016).  Spare Parts demonstrated self-authorship skills which may be particularly helpful to undocumented students since, as Gildersleeve, Rumann, and Mondragón (2010) have pointed out, “National media and political discourse often characterize undocumented immigrants as ‘living in the shadows’ or ‘underground’” (p. 6).  Though undocumented students face challenges, they participate in college life, and advisors are in a position to help them rewrite their own narratives.

That being said, there are distinct considerations when advising undocumented students.  This example from Spare Parts illustrated one such concern: The robotics team passed through an immigration checkpoint on the drive back to Phoenix after a trip to see the Pacific Ocean and tour ROV manufacturer SeaBotix.  Author Davis (2014) recounted, “Oscar prepared for the worst.  He imagined being torn from his family and dropped across the border” (p. 107).  Oscar was a leader on the robotics team but was left questioning whether or not his participation was worth the risk of deportation.

This type of risk assessment has many implications for advising undocumented students.  Advisor Michelle Sotolongo (2012) has provided one example, “When discussing career plans with the student be wary of degree programs in which background checks or internships may be required, such as K-12 education, the health professions, and social work, as well as graduate and doctoral programs that accept undocumented students.”  Such consideration allows advisors to develop strategies for assisting undocumented students through their academic and personal journeys.

Students like Luis, Oscar, Lorenzo, and Cristian are enrolled in higher education institutions across the nation.  The Migration Policy Institute (Batalova & Mittelstadt, 2012) “estimates that 140,000 young adults (between ages 16 and 24) are enrolled in two- or four-year colleges and universities and another 80,000 already have at least an associate’s degree.”  I recommend Spare Parts to advisors who would like to learn more about the experiences of undocumented students through a nonfiction narrative.  The robotics team’s story encourages advisors to think critically about the stories of undocumented students on their own campuses and to assess how to best support this population.


Batalova, J., & Mittelstadt, M. (2012, August). Relief from deportation: Demographic profile of the DREAMers potentially eligible under the deferred action policy. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved September 28, 2016, from http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/DACA-deferred-action-DREAMers

Davis, J. (2014). Spare parts. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Gildersleeve, R., Rumann, C., & Mondragón, R. (2010). Serving undocumented students: Current law and policy. New Directions for Student Services, 131(Fall). Wiley Periodical, Inc. doi: 10.1002/ss.364

Hagen, P., & Trama, R. (2016, August 16). NACADA Reads goes to the movies: Narratological advising & strictly ballroom [Webinar]. NACADA Reads. Retrieved September 28, 2016, from https://mediasite.k-state.edu/mediasite/Play/ba56d2ec566748c7baf69db34615f9aa1d?playFrom=0000

Sotolongo, M. (2012, June). In limbo: Challenges faced by undocumented students in higher education. Academic Advising Today, 2(35). Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/In-Limbo-Challenges-Faced-by-Undocumented-Students-in-Higher-Education.aspx

BkRev#1696. Spare Parts. (2014). Joshua Davis, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. 240 pp., $14.00, (Paperback), ISBN #978-0-374-53498-1, http://us.macmillan.com/search?keyword=Spare+Parts&bisac_heading=combined&order=relevance

Posted in: 2016 Book Reviews
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