The Road to Delano

Written by John DeSimone
Review by Hilary Daninhirsch

In the late 1960s, a young man fights to save his family’s legacy amidst an unsettling time for migrant workers.

Jack Duncan is a high school senior with dreams of playing college baseball. He lives in northern California with his widowed mother, Shirley. His father, Sugar Duncan, a professional gambler and grape farmer, died ten years earlier in an accident. Soon afterward, his mother lost most of their land and grape vineyards to their neighbor, and they struggled financially for years. Recently it has become clear to Jack that his mother, and others, have information about the true circumstances surrounding Sugar’s death.

Jack’s best friend’s father is a grape picker and was recently let go. Adrian and his father try to stay under the radar as they work with Cesar Chavez, a key figure in the book and real-life founder of the National Farmworkers Union, to demand better working conditions for the laborers, many of whom were immigrants. Chavez had initiated the Delano Grape Strike, and anyone who associated with him did so at great personal risk.

Things become deadly when someone steals Jack’s father’s old combine, the last hope for them to raise cash so Jack’s mother can open a shop. As he gradually learns the truth, Jack takes matters into his own hands, including mastering his father’s card-playing acumen.

The book is part mystery, part coming-of-age story, and an exploration of the plight of migrant workers during the unrest of the 1960s. Blending historical figures with fictional characters and storyline, the book tackles matters that are still timely today. Parts of the narrative drag a bit, such as the detailed descriptions of Jack’s baseball games and his card games, but essentially, it is a satisfactory read.