THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS, by Cristina Henriquez, should be on your “must-read” list!
This amazing new novel beings with Alma and Arturo Rivera just arriving in Newark, Delaware. They have come from Patzcuaro, Mexico. Why? Their fifteen-year-old daughter, Maribel, needs to attend a school for people with special needs, and the best school is nearby. They have given up everything. Since sustaining a brain injury recently she is not herself. Maribel is startlingly beautiful, which is problematic in itself.
This beautifully written novel is told in the voices of many people. Each one brings something unique to the story. All the characters are Latin-American. The housing complex the Rivera family moves into is inhabited by many Latin-American families. Each voice is strong and flawless.
Mayor is the sixteen-year-old boy who falls in love with the damaged, but gorgeous, Maribel. Mayor, himself, is from Panama, and lives with his mother and father, under the shadow of his brother “the soccer star.” I watched this story ripen and could not help but fear for both Mayor and Maribel. So young, so much trouble, and so vulnerable.
All these immigrants are just looking for a place to call home. They wish to belong somewhere. They have journeyed from their homelands to find a better place for themselves and their families. And what do they get? It’s not all roses and sunshine. They usually do not know any or very little English. Imagine moving to a country not knowing the language. And they never have much money. Some are promised jobs that turn out to be inadequate at best. They all struggle. This novel puts names to faces. And leaves you with a feeling of both hope and despair.
I grew up in Delaware. Boy was I surprised to find this novel set in my state. It’s a small but powerful place. And just goes to show that there are immigrants living everywhere in this country. They are living in plain sight, but seem hidden away at times.
Henriquez says this story is inspired by her dad who arrived in America from Panama in 1971 to attend college. He eventually became a citizen and stayed.
Cristina Henriquez is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Whenever I see someone is a graduate of Iowa I get excited. It always means the writing is going to be great. And this is no exception.
I received my review copy from Alfred A. Knopf publishers. This review is my own honest opinion.