Patrick Kelly

"Only Yes Means Yes is a compelling, must-read for both teens and adults." - Rae's Reading Lounge

BOOKS I LOVE -- THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS -- CRISTINA HENRIQUEZ

Contemporary IssuesPat Kelly

I personally read this book and recommend that you read it too.

Imagine you have a daughter and that your daughter has an accident and suffers a severe brain injury. What sacrifice would you make to help her? What if her doctor told you there was a special school she could attend to help her get better but that the new school was in a different country where the people spoke a different language.

This is the plot line for Cristini Henríquez’s novel, The Book of Unknown Americans. Alma and Arturo Rivera bring their daughter Maribel three thousand kilometers from Pátzcuaro, Mexico to attend a special school in Delaware. They don’t know the language, the customs, or even how to find the grocery store. Arturo has a job lined up at a nearby mushroom farm. They have visas and a little savings, but not enough to protect them if something really bad happens.

The Riveras move into an apartment complex occupied by other Latin Americans: The Toro family from Panama, who have lived in the US for many years and have become citizens; Gustavo Milhojas from Guatemala, who works two shifts as a janitor for movie theaters and often eats popcorn and soda for dinner; Quisqueya Solís from Venezuela, a single mother with an adequate income who likes to gossip; Nelia Zafon from Puerto Rico, who moved to New York City to dance many years ago and now runs her own theater company; and many others.

If you have ever wondered what it would be like to live in this country as an immigrant, you should read The Book of Unknown Americans. Henríquez describes the experience from many different angles: school, work, home, romance, unemployment, encountering bigotry, and also the wonder of newcomers living in a place of great beauty and bounty.

The debate about immigration policy is so rancorous and attention-getting, we sometimes forget that millions of immigrants are already here. Most of them are hard workers who contribute to our economy as they try to make a living for their families. The Book of Unknown Americans tells their story.

Cristini Henríquez is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the author of the novel The World in Half, and the short story collection Come Together, Fall Apart, which was a New York Times Editors' Choice selection.

Check out The Book of Unknown Americans.

. . .

I believe in the Power of Story. When you read a novel as good as The Book of Unknown Americans, you are transported to another place and culture. You experience the hopes, struggles, successes, failures, and emotions of the characters. This makes you a better person.

Time for my shameless promotion: If you’re in the mood for light entertainment, check out the Joe Robbins series. Joe is a flawed but likable hero who solves cases the old fashioned way: he struggles, he takes punches, and he makes mistakes, but he never gives up.

A Fateful Greed

A Just Rage

A Siren’s Love