Book Review - The Book of Unknown Americans

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 Panamà 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.

-Summary from
The Book of Unknown Americans is a powerful, eye opening portrait of what it's like to be a Latino immigrant in the United States. Henríquez tells the story of the Riveras and the Toros, alternating between Maribel's mother Alma and Mayor. In between their chapters, short vignettes detail the experiences of a number of other Latino immigrants.

What I really liked about the book was how real the characters seemed to me. Alma is fiercely protective of Maribel, especially since she comes to blame herself for Maribel's accident and condition. Her husband, Arturo, devotes himself to keeping a job and staying out of trouble so they can stay in the United States so their daughter can receive the help she needs. Mayor is a freshman in high school who lives under the shadow of an athletically gifted older brother and can't quite live up to his father's expectations.

A neighborhood troublemaker, Garrett, is at the center of the events that lead to the climax of the story. He begins to stalk and pursue Maribel, and it's his interactions with both Mayor and Alma that lead the reader to fear for the girl's safety. What also concerned me, though, was how quickly Mayor's feelings for Maribel developed and how far he takes them. They talk a few times and suddenly he's in love with her and feeling her up.

Overall, though, the story was moving and heartbreaking. I would recommend this book to anyone who needs a clearer picture of how hard some immigrants do work to get into this country and how dedicated they are to doing the right thing.