I have a really, really hard time writing about a book that I absolutely adore. I sometimes finish a book and continue to think about it for days, sometimes weeks. For some, I know exactly the place, the moment and time where I read it…even years later. Nevertheless, all of my books end up on the shelf and I hope that a friend will skim the titles in search for a good book and take one. This one is different. How do I close a book and put it on my shelf when the topic is making headline news today? I can’t tuck away an experience my family lived 40 years ago, one that people are living through right now.
“The Book of Unknown Americans ” just hits very close to home. I understood at a very young age that my parents didn’t feel like they belonged. I understood that they had to crouch in the shadows of society and not attract attention to themselves…and I never questioned it. I knew. My friends knew because they were experiencing the exact same thing. Lately, we have seen it all play out daily on the news. People are taking stands on whether or not to welcome refugee children in need, or turn them away because this country has enough problems.
Cristina Henríquez has written a novel that tells so many people’s story in a captivating and clear way…many people arrive in the United States for something better, because of a specific need or for basic survival. What many don’t undestand (or refuse to believe) is that not everyone who comes to this country has the same story. Everyone’s need is different and we don’t always understand that. So many can make a contribution, if given the chance.
In “The Book of Unknown Americans,” Arturo, Alma and Maribel Rivera leave their happy lives in Mexico for only one reason; they make a journey to Delaware in order to help Maribel get well after she suffers a head injury. Arturo, the devoted, hard-working father, can’t seem to catch a break. Alma is brave and clever, but lives in fear and helplessness. Their neighbors are Latinos from different countries with their own stories to tell and Henríquez weaves it all in so beautifully. They are welcoming and encouraging to the Riveras. They have their own stories of love, success, failures and of their home countries. Some of these characters refuse to go unknown, regardless of what lies ahead. I’m hopeful that this novel will open the eyes of many, many who refuse to see.
This book begs for discussion! It’s truthful and real, yet unique. Read it with your book club, your teenagers, students and/or parents. I’m not keeping this one on my book shelf. I’ll make sure to pass it along. Have you read it? What did you think?? Please share in the comments below!
Image: CR Photography