Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Book of Unknown Americans

This book made me feel, which is more than I can say about a lot of other novels. It pulled at my heartstrings and made me open my eyes to an issue that a lot of Americans don't really think or care about much, immigration. Arturo and Alma move from Mexico to the US (legally, in case you're wondering) to seek help for their brain damaged daughter. They've been told that the schools in the United States are better equipped to deal with special needs children so they decide to uproot their lives so that their beautiful daughter Maribel might have a shot a rehabilitation. Arturo takes an unskilled low paying job at a mushroom farm and his wife and daughter settle in to their new apartment. They find themselves surrounded by immigrants from all over: Panama, Puerto Rico, Paraguay, etc. Together they form a mismatched community or safe haven. They have each others backs as they try to adjust to the American way of life. One of the teenage boys from Panama sets his sight on Maribel and looks past her brain damage to see a sweet, loving, confused girl. Together they try to navigate their relationship just as their parents are doing.

Beautifully told and heartbreaking this novel is told through the voices of the immigrants. Each resident in the apartment complex tells their story on why they came to America and how it has or hasn't lived up to their expectations. The two key voices however, are Alma and Mayor (the Panamanian boy), and each vignette helps piece together the story of trying to make a life in America.

It's a fast, hard to put down book filled with compassion, brutal honesty, and the perseverance of the human spirit.

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