Jose Pimienta’s graphic novel Twin Cities (Random House Graphic, 2022) tells the story of twins that, for the first time, will attend two different schools: one in their home town of Mexicali, Mexico, and the other in a specialty school just over the US border in Calexico, California. As the two kids go through their seventh grade year, we see the differences and also the similarities of life in middle school in two different countries, with accompanying lifestyle and cultural differences, as well as the personal difficulties of coming to find oneself independently from the previously always present sibling.
Twin Cities nicely captures the two unique personalities of the teens. Fernando is not studious, so he’s happy to stay with his friends in the local school. Without his twin, though, he faces a new type of year. Since Teresa’s academic ambitions lead her to a prestigious private school in the USA, she is away for many additional hours each day with daily crossings from Mexico to California. She has an abundance of homework and finds herself swamped with her work when she is back home. Fernando, then, finds himself filling his time with not-so-great new friends, and he must make decisions about what is truly important to him.
In addition to capturing a unique set of personalities and experiences, Twin Cities also captures the unique struggles that come with being partially part of the American culture and partially part of the Mexican culture. To Fernando’s surprise one of his friends is vehemently anti-American and doesn’t want anything to do with life over the border. Also, Teresa has different rights as a Mexican citizen in school in the USA, and her twice-daily visit through customs adds another degree of stress and complexity to life.
Despite the middle grade level of the story, because of some of the issues that Fernando and Teresa face, such as drug use in the Mexican school, I’d recommend Twin Cities for 12 and up. Our protagonists are straight-arrow kids that make good choices, for the most part, but the difficulties and antagonisms that they face would be best suited for middle school readers, rather than the upper elementary crowd. I like seeing how the twins individually developed and I also loved seeing the ultimate resolution as they proved that they were there for each other, just as they always had been.