BkRev#1824. The Jaguar’s Children. (2015). John Vaillant. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 268 pp. $14.95 (Paperback). ISBN # 978-0-544-57022-1. http://hmhbooks.com/jaguarschildren/index.html

Colleen M. Kent Greenstine, Office of Undergraduate Advising & Academic Services, Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics, University of Delaware, [email protected]

John Vaillant’s The Jaguar’s Children describes a panicked few days of Héctor and other passengers trapped in a sealed, broken down water truck as they attempt to cross the border into the United States.  César, Hector’s friend and travel companion, has a cell phone with a dying battery and only one American phone number programmed in its contacts.  Héctor regularly reaches out to the individual, known only as AnniMac, but he has no way to know if his messages and pleas for help are reaching her.

The text begins with a limited perspective inside of the water truck that then expands to contextualizing Héctor, other passengers, and the unconscious César.  Vaillant takes the reader on a journey through Héctor’s past showing glimpses of his life, as his immediate struggle must be placed within a larger context.  These flashbacks describe César and Héctor’s time at university, their relationship, and the events that led up to their attempt to cross the border.  Héctor’s memories demonstrate not only his family’s connection to their land and culture, but also to the constantly changing social dynamics, which include the historic influence of Spanish culture on indigenous populations and the globalization and Americanization of contemporary life.

As readers, we are provided the stark contrast of a challenging past and current life in Oaxaca juxtaposed against the hope and promise of life in the United States.  Héctor’s ironic predicament of being trapped in a water truck with no water continues to further contrast his expectations of life in America with his reality.  Héctor’s immediate struggle is survival in the abandoned, sealed water truck, but his issue exists within a larger framework.  Surviving the water truck will not solve Héctor’s family’s now growing financial obligations and his need to find a job.  Héctor’s exploration of the past demonstrates that his current situation reflects past struggles.

There is a human and cyclic nature to life’s challenges and the real possibility of not overcoming them, and this theme of overcoming challenges relates to the field of advising.  Vaillant’s process of unveiling the detailed background, whereby the reader gains a thorough understanding of individuals, events, and societal expectations, mirrors the holistic advising approach to connecting with students.  Similarly, when we connect with students about one item, we as advisors need to ensure that we consider the student’s larger context and experiences, whether that be cultural, financial, social, or academic.  Advisors must not only recognize that a student’s expectations may not match the reality of their situation, but advisors must also know how to navigate these difficult types of conversations; for example, a student on academic probation desiring a GPA-restricted major. 

Although a novel is not the most obvious resource from which an advisor can draw information, I have found the relationship between the characters helpful in framing interactions between advisors and students.  The novel’s story-telling style reminds advisors that advising is not lecturing students about their options and requirements, but rather, a fostered connection and exchange that allows students to take ownership of their educational opportunities.  With ever-increasing workloads and responsibilities, advisors can utilize The Jaguar’s Children as reminder that students are more than a number, and that they are a culmination of unique experiences.

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