Book Review: The Book of Unknown Americans

Book Review: The Book of Unknown AmericansThe Book of Unknown Americans
by Cristina Henriquez
on June 3rd 2014
Pages: 286
Published by Knopf
Genres: Literary Fiction, Multicultural

A dazzling, heartbreaking page-turner destined for breakout status: a novel that gives voice to millions of Americans as it tells the story of the love between a Panamanian boy and a Mexican girl: teenagers living in an apartment block of immigrant families like their own.

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 cinderblock 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 Panamá 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.

Peopled with deeply sympathetic characters, this poignant yet unsentimental tale of young love tells a riveting story of unflinching honesty and humanity that offers a resonant new definition of what it means to be an American. An instant classic is born.

My Takeaway 

“I know some people here think we’re trying to take over, but we just want to be a part of it. We want to have our stake. This is our home, too.” Cristina Henríquez, The Book of Unknown Americans

Although this book was published in 2014, I am just now getting to it. The book is filled with the individual stories of immigrants to the U.S. in search of a better life. The characters are from Mexico, Paraguay, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Panama, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Each person tells their unique story of how and why they came to the United States (some with documents, others undocumented). While the story centers on two families and the relationship that develops between their teenage kids (Maribel and Mayor), it also gives readers a glimpse into each of the character’s dreams, hopes, struggles and triumphs. This book made me think of how difficult and lonely life can be when you move to a country with a different language, culture, and customs. Henríquez is a delightful story-teller that brought her characters to life. I believe this book would be great for high school students.

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