the book of unknown americans

Just for funsies, I borrowed The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez a few weeks ago. From Goodreads:

After their daughter Maribel suffers a near-fatal accident, the Riveras leave México and come to America. But upon settling at Redwood Apartments, a two-story cinder block complex just off a highway in Delaware, they discover that Maribel’s recovery—the piece of the American Dream on which they’ve pinned all their hopes—will not be easy. Every task seems to confront them with language, racial, and cultural obstacles. At Redwood also lives Mayor Toro, a high school sophomore whose family arrived from Panamà fifteen years ago. Mayor sees in Maribel something others do not: that beyond her lovely face, and beneath the damage she’s sustained, is a gentle, funny, and wise spirit. But as the two grow closer, violence casts a shadow over all their futures in America.

What a quiet, sensitive read. The Book of Unknown Americans brings stories of immigration to the United States to life, giving voices and personalities that ring true to these characters. The alternating point of view, mostly between Maribel’s mother Alma and Mayor, give the story and characters a sense of familiarity for the reader—you are pulled into their world and experiences. I was glad for the variety of viewpoints, including those of the two families’ neighbors, making this so much more than just a teenager romance. It drove home the fact that there are all kinds of immigrants in the United States, some legally, some undocumented, and they came for myriad reasons, with myriad histories. There are many excellent, thought-provoking points throughout, making this a great book club pick.

The devastating climax is pretty heart wrenching, but worth it and affecting. I liked this book but didn’t quite love it—I wanted just a little more tension and depth, but still it was a good book that I definitely can recommend.

Read from September 23 to October 4, 2014.

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