Spare Parts

Spare Parts Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Joshua Davis's Spare Parts. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Joshua Davis

Joshua Davis grew up in California. After graduating college, Davis worked several odd jobs in his early twenties before co-writing an article with a friend for a local San Francisco paper, starting his journalism career. In 2001, Davis became part of the U.S. Arm-wrestling Team and traveled internationally to compete, though he has never won a competitive match. He directed a documentary film about his experiences and won Best Documentary at the Telluride Mountain Film Festival. In 2003, Davis covered the Iraq war for Wired Magazine and became a Contributing Editor. In 2005, Random House published Davis’s memoir, The Underdog, which details his journey through some of the world’s most outlandish competitions. In 2013, Davis and Joshuah Bearman formed EPIC, a magazine devoted to telling extraordinary true stories. In 2014, Davis published Spare Parts, which was then made into a feature film. He currently lives in San Francisco and continues to write for both Wired and EPIC.
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Historical Context of Spare Parts

Davis’s account calls for change in American immigration policies, which have been the source of ongoing debate for several decades. This policy became particularly contentious after the system of immigrant quotas (under which each nationality was assigned a quota based on its representation in past U.S. census figures) was abolished by the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. This bill also provided for preferences to be made for those who were relatives of U.S. citizens or permanent residents, those with skills deemed useful to the United States, or people who were refugees of violence or unrest. Through the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, immigrants continued to pour into the United States, spurring the Immigration Reform Act in 1986, which sought to create more possibilities to seek legal immigration. Still, there exists a large population of undocumented immigrants in the United States, particularly from Latin American countries. Estimates in 2015 put the number of undocumented immigrants at 11 million people. Various administrations have sought to reform immigration policies: President George W. Bush ordered 6,000 members of the National Guard to patrol the U.S.-Mexican border in an effort to deter people from crossing. President Obama issued an executive order instructing the government to defer deporting young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children as part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. President Trump believes DACA to be unconstitutional, and as of 2018 the program is in limbo as it is being reviewed by courts in several states. President Trump has also made building a more secure border wall a centerpiece of his platform.

Other Books Related to Spare Parts

Spare Parts blends journalism with a narrative style to show the journeys of these four boys and their path to winning the competition while also documenting the larger political forces at work and how they shape their immigration stories. Books that touch on similar stories of immigration include Enrique’s Journey, which describes one boy’s tale of journeying from Honduras to the United States, and Reyna Grande’s The Distance Between Us, which is a memoir of Grande’s own experience immigrating from Mexico to the U.S., where she becomes the first member of her family to graduate from college. In documenting the unlikely success of the Carl Hayden students, Davis’s book also has some stylistic similarities with Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, which investigates the factors that contribute to unique and exceptional success—and also how some people are prevented from success through various cultural phenomena.
Key Facts about Spare Parts
  • Full Title: Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream
  • When Written: 2004-2014
  • Where Written: Arizona, California
  • When Published: 2014
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Setting: Mexico, Arizona, California
  • Climax: The Carl Hayden students win the 2004 MATE underwater-robotics competition
  • Antagonist: U.S. immigration policies, poverty
  • Point of View: Third person

Extra Credit for Spare Parts

Almost like a movie. Davis first wrote about the Carl Hayden students in the magazine Wired in 2005 prior to writing Spare Parts in 2014. This article led to a film version about the students’ triumph in the MATE competition, starring George Lopez as their teacher.

An inspiring contribution. After Davis published his article in Wired in 2005, readers of the magazine subsequently raised over $120,000 in scholarship money for the four students.