Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Book Review: "The Book of Unknown American" by Cristina Henriquez

The Book of Unknown Americans Cristina Henriquez
Date finished: October 13, 2017
Date published: June 3, 2014
ISBN: 9780385350846
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Book Club
Highly Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like: Books about immigrants, young love stories, novels with developed supporting characters

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.

My Thoughts: 
This was one of those books that I knew I really should read.  I had checked it out of the library a few times, but was never able to get to it before the due date (thanks to the law of "all holds must come in at once.")  So, when this one came to me through one of my book  clubs, I knew the time had come.

I knew immediately that this would be a book that would work for me.  The characters, the main and the supporting, all vividly come to life on the page.  I especially liked the shorter chapters we would get describing the smaller characters.  While they aren't essential to the story, they add a depth to the novel that I appreciated.

There are a few main plots in this book, but it centers around the two teenage characters, Maribel and Mayor.  I found their story and relationship to be reminiscent of Eleanor and Park (which, in my mind, is a very good thing).  Mayor was both a typical teenager and a fascinating young man.  Most of the books with characters such as him that I've read concentrate on the female counterpart, so it was nice to see the tables turned there.

We don't have much of a chance to get inside Maribel's head, but that is an effective choice by Henriquez, for two reasons.  First of  all, because of her brain injury, it makes sense that Maribel's character is closed off--both from the world and from the reader.  Second, by not seeing through Maribel's eyes, Henriquez reminds the reader of how we might distance ourselves from our immigrant neighbors.

I believe, given what is happening in the world, this is the perfect time to read this book.  While so many lines are being drawn (and walls being built), it is important to put yourself in someone else's shoes--and reading this book is an excellent way to do so.  I regret that it took me so long to read this, but I'm glad that I finally did and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.

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