Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Book Review: "The Book of Unknown Americans" by Cristina Henriquez

Arturo and Alma Rivera lived a happy life in Mexico until their beautiful teenage daughter, Maribel, sustains a serious injury in an accident. Unsure if she'll ever be the same again, they migrate to the United States—Delaware, specifically—where Maribel will be able to attend a special school and hopefully begin to recover some semblance of normalcy. But America is difficult for the Riveras—the job Arturo secures to sponsor their journey to America is brutal, Maribel doesn't seem to be making much progress in school, and Alma struggles with English, and trying to become acclimated to a different life.

"Because a place can do many things against you, and if it's your home or if it was your home at one time, you still love it. That's how it works."

The one bright spot is that the Riveras meet Celia and Rafael Toro, who came to the U.S. years ago to escape the destruction and violence in Panama. The Toros are more settled into their American lives, although Celia in particular longs to return home, at least for a visit. And when their teenage son, Mayor, who struggles with self-confidence in the shadow of his more athletic, popular older brother, sets eyes on Maribel for the first time, he finds himself completely in her thrall, and wants nothing more to spend time with her, despite what others perceive as her challenges.

As the relationship between the Riveras and the Toros grows stronger, it is tested—as are relationships within each family—by secrets, incorrect assumptions, fears, longing, and struggles. And a number of incidents occur which set in motion a chain of events which will affect each member of both families in vastly different ways.

Cristina Henriquez's The Book of Unknown Americans gives a powerful and moving glimpse into the immigrant experience for many Latin American people. In addition to telling the story of the Rivera and Toro families, the plot is interwoven with brief testimonials from other neighbors, each of whom came from a different Latin American country and experienced different struggles and happinesses upon arriving in America. This is a book that makes you think a little bit more about the challenges and barriers people often deal with when coming to America, even legally.

I thought this was a very captivating read, and Henriquez is an excellent storyteller. While some of her characters may seem familiar, I thought she imbued them with interesting characteristics and quirks that made them more complex. I read this book very quickly, and found it an emotionally rich story I'm still thinking about.

1 comment:

  1. This author knows how to tell a story - from the hook early on and the wonderful voices of all, I found it difficult to put this one down for a breather. The audio book is read by a talented cast and I was happy that I had the opportunity to listen to this story.