About the Book
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The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez is set in Delaware at an apartment complex run by an immigrant who came to the United States to train to be a lightweight boxer. Instead, he ended up running the apartment complex.
Living within the apartment are many immigrants from all over Central America and Mexico. The story briefly touches on all these people, but the main story is about two families–the Riveras and the Toros.
Arturo and Alma Riveras come to the U.S. because they heard that the schools would be good for their teenage daughter, Maribel, who suffered a traumatic brain injury the year before. The school IS good for Maribel, but Arturo is stuck literally working in the dark all day picking mushrooms at a mushroom plant. He hates his job, especially because he used to own his own construction business in Mexico, but he dutifully goes to work every day because he wants to see Maribel get better.
Meanwhile, the Toros have been in the United States for over fifteen years and have two teenage sons, Enrique and Mayor. While Enrique blends seamlessly into the world as a popular, attractive athlete who gets a scholarship to college, Mayor, who would likely have been socially awkward anyway, feels even more so because he’s always in his brother’s shadow.
When the Riveras and Toros become good friends and start going to church together and meeting together afterward, Mayor is forced to entertain Maribel. Though he thinks she’s beautiful, he’s put off by her brain injury–in the beginning at least.
As Mayor’s feelings grow for Maribel, he finds himself in a difficult position. Maribel does have a brain injury, and her mother is overprotective and wary to let her out of her sight. Still, Mayor can’t control his feelings, nor does he want to, which, in the end, may have been at the root of a tragedy that strikes the family.
Why I Enjoyed This Book
There are several reasons why I enjoyed this book. First, most of the residents of the apartment complex are here legally. While most Americans think that most new immigrants are here illegally, this book takes pains to show that they’re here legally, that they went through the proper channels even though getting here took longer than they would have liked.
Second, Americans in general have a bad tendency to lump all immigrants from Mexico and Central America as Mexican. This book shows that obviously, immigrants come from a wide variety of places with a wide variety of experiences. Because Henriquez gives us at least a brief look at each immigrant in the apartment complex, we can see how different they really are.
Finally, this book is also about a sweet love story.
5 out of 5 stars on the Mom’s Plans’ scale.
If you’re interested in this book, or if you’ve already read it, don’t forget to read this interview with the writer!