“The Book of Unknown Americans” Book Review and September Selection!

My sister picked this month’s book, The Book of Unknown Americans, and I was really excited to read it because it came with so many accolades—from NPR, The Washington Post, New York Times, etc. Since this is a virtual book club, we have been posting our responses online at the end of each month. You can read Libby and Stephanie’s responses on their blogs live right now!

I studied a lot about international affairs, immigration, and the like when I was in college. I’ve read so many articles about how hard it is to immigrate to the U.S. so I thought I had an idea what it is like for people who come here looking to escape a bad country or seek a better life for their family. I was blown away by the way Cristina Henríquez took issues you read about in the newspaper and attached a person or a family to the story, and for this reason I think the book is hugely important.

The structure of the book jumped from person to person, and occasionally backtracked, allowing a character to describe events that had just happened from a new point of view. I really loved this. All of the characters in this book live in a small apartment complex and have immigrated to the U.S. from a variety of Latin-American countries. One of the points of this book was to show the reader the wide variety of reasons one would leave their home country. It’s a real dose of perspective and empathy.

The Book of Unknown Americans

The main plot of the book is that the Rivera family, who applied for visas to come to the U.S. and waited years, has finally been approved. They sell or store everything from their home in México and arrive in Delaware in the back of a pickup truck. They move into the apartment building and slowly meet their neighbors. The Riveras’ high-school aged daughter, Maribel, has suffered a brain injury in México and she is the whole reason they came north—so she could be admitted to a special education school to help rebuild her short term memory and other issues caused by the accident. There is a nerdy, high-school aged boy in the complex, named Mayor: he sees himself and Marisol as outsiders and the two form a special friendship, which turns into a clunky, confused, first-romance.

Like many highly lauded books, this one has a really tragic final act, and the sting is only slightly soothed by the Latin American community coming together as a kind of extended family at the very end. What is it about humans that tragedy is often the only thing that will jolt us out of our normal thoughts and routines?

I highly recommend this book to anyone, and I probably wouldn’t hesitate assigning it to a college class (the topic is on my mind since I work at a school and have seen my fair share of freshmen on the edge of adulthood this week). I don’t know if I mentioned it before, but over the past three years I’ve been making a great effort to read books written by non-whites from a variety of countries (the U.S. and abroad) and it has been so, so, rewarding. Not only do publishers need to continue the breadth of their author pool, reading those authors has been expanding my world in a way that makes me feel like I know so little (but in a good way).

Virtual Book Club

Next up, ligher fare. So happy that we are going to read Mindy Kaling during my birthday month! Buy Why Not Me in a physical copy or kindle version and join Libby, Stephanie, and me the last Wednesday of September when we discuss on our respective blogs.

Mindy Kaling

“We Should All be Feminists” Book Review and August Selection!

It’s time for my monthly virtual book club post! After reading my response (or before, that’s fine), hop over to see what Libby and Stephanie thought of this pick. 


We should all be feminists.

The first thing that stands out to me in this essay (mini-book) is how that statement, so basic and true, can be so difficult to utter confidently, without feeling the temptation to add any qualifiers. The beginning of the essay says as much, with Adiche describing her journey into claiming the noun for herself. The term does have negative connotations. It can lead to uncomfortable, complicated conversations. It’s at the same time convenient and inconvenient. Her path towards claiming the word reminded me much of my own, which I wrote about in the past for Libby’s blog. Since my early days where the most I could say was that I was an “egalitarian,” I have really shifted into advocating for my fellow women and calling out sexism where I see it.


At the risk of touching two hot-button topics in one post, I want to point out the passage above. It is so simple and eloquent and also holds up a mirror to the “Black Lives Matter” vs “all lives matter” movements.

Let’s go back to the title for a moment. We should ALL be feminists. All oppressed people need allies. Women, while not overtly oppressed in the way we have been for centuries, still get the short end of the stick when it comes to safety, job opportunities, sexist media coverage, etc. It is crucial to loop men at all levels into this conversation. My husband will tell anyone willing to listen why he is a feminist. He raves about how many members of upper management in his company are women. His journey has been inspiring to me and makes our life journey together stronger.

What a day to tackle this post. Hillary Clinton has just become the first woman to be nominated as a Presidential candidate by one of America’s two major parties. (Notably, the Green Party and others have had female candidates in the past). Not having a major candidate has frustrated us (women) for years, yet the political pipeline is still lacking in volume of qualified candidates. Bit by bit, this is changing. Women who were in high school and college during the heady “grrl power” days of the 90s are hitting a good stride in their political careers. We are seeing more women at various levels elected office. This trend must continue!


I’m going to keep this short since the source material was short. Instead of reading my thoughts, read the mini-book (it will only take about 3o minutes) and let me know your thoughts in the comments. If you’d rather listen instead of reading, you can listen to the TedxTalk (which was closely adapted into this book) here on YouTube.

Truly, I feel like I covered most of what I think about gender roles (and lack thereof) and feminism in the piece I wrote for Libby this spring. I’m still proud of it and I will still talk anyone’s ear off about how my husband is a feminist and what it’s like to be in a feminist marriage.

Our b11bookhenriquez1-master180-v2ook for August will be The Book of Unknown Americans which has been on my “to-read” list for probably about a year now. Over the past two years I’ve been making a concerted effort to read highly reviewed books by writers of color so I couldn’t be more ready to tackle this. This NYT review from two years ago sounds like it could have been written today. So excited Steph suggested it! As always, you’re invited to read along and discuss your thoughts during the month or at the end of the month on one of our respective blog posts!

“The Secret Life of Bees” Book Review and July Selection! 

It’s the best part of the month—book club time! I’ve been having such a good time reading along with Libby and Stephanie, and you if you’d like to join. If you’ve ever read this book (even if it wasn’t this month) I’d love for you to join in the discussion in the comment section! Our club has been all over the place in the last three months. Paranormal, then sci-fi, and now a touching civil rights-era story set in the South.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd is one of those books that I’d always heard buzz about (yes, I just went there) but I literally had no idea what it was about or when it was published. We democratically decided that it sounded like a good choice, and I zipped over to the used book store and grabbed my copy without so much as looking at the back. So, that’s how I blindly jumped into this month’s read! I was not prepared to be so inspired! As the main character, Lily, runs away from an abusive father and discovers her new, empowered, free, self in the home of three strong, loving women, I was inspired to be the person (like the Calendar Sisters) reaching out and raising up those younger than me in need. I work with college students and I am always trying to encourage them to think about their career goals when faced with dumb and mundane college-related decisions. I also try to encourage students to be their independent, best selves. Hopefully my reassuring words have stuck with a couple of them!

The rest of the review contains spoilers and a couple of them are a bit depressing, but I think I found the light at the end of the tunnel: 

One thing I noticed when reading was that I was always holding my breath waiting for something big and bad to happen. This gave me an uneasy sense of suspense for most of the book, instead of soaking in the warmth of the Calendar Sisters and the pink house. This should not have been a “suspense” novel! Honestly I want to reread this soon so that I can savor it more the second time, since I now know what is coming and when. May’s suicide and the arrest of Zach definitely qualify as “big, bad” things, but I’d psyched myself out so much, expecting the worst (I pictured Zach getting beaten to death for spending so much time with a white girl) that the bad things that actually did happen in the book didn’t really shake me. And I think this is a commentary on the extremism of books and movies, and media for that matter:

Devastating things happen in TV and books, and in real life on a regular basis—so regular in fact that some of them have a hard time registering as a blip on the radar. (Oh, only a couple people died? Not 20?) This reminds me of May, who felt everything so deeply that she had to take it to the wailing wall. I find myself somewhere in between praying the common prayer, “break my heart for what breaks yours,” and frequently shutting down so I don’t get overwhelmed with the state of the world. Hate crimes, terrorism, poverty, and the like are so prevalent and with the internet we have an unending source to read more and more about terrible things. Like an IV of tragedy. At some point it needs to be shut off before we, like May, can’t take anymore.

I think that is where supportive groups of people come in. I don’t strictly mean “support groups” although that is one form of important community—but any close circle of friends where you can get “real” without feeling like you are going to freak people out. This can be a church or social group, online community, family, or it can take another form. In the book this took the form of the eclectic, lovely Daughters of Mary. What I learned from the Daughters of Mary is that community can help pull us through whatever the world may have for us, whether it’s something that affects us directly, or if it’s general despair and helplessness about current events.

Oh, and during the part where August tells Lily everything she’s been dreaming of hearing about her mother? The good and the bad? Cut to me silently weeping next to a stranger on an airplane. And when the women stand up for Lily so that she can stay at the pink house? I was beside myself. I’m so glad that the book ended on an “up” note and not on a “down” note. Sometimes we really need those happy endings in life.

Virtual Book Club

Shakespeare and Company

Next month we have selected a really short one: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Despite the low page count I am sure there will be lots to unpack during the last week of August. Please join in!

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