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 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).
Next up, lighter 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.