The Book of Unknown Americans (Henriquez)

This book has been widely praised as a story of the immigrant (legal and otherwise) experience. There is a site filled with amazing and important stories (http://unknownamericans.tumblr.com/). And I enjoyed the fact that the main characters are legal because the focus becomes on how and how difficult it is to stay in the United States. Everything – from shopping for food to getting and keeping a job to simply just getting from one place to another – becomes a challenge, and these challenges are complicated by stereotypes, language differences, even rivalries among immigrants who have their origins in different places and have found themselves in the same apartment complex in what seems to be a remote section of Delaware. (And a bravo to Ms. Henriquez for choosing Delaware.)

But to say this book is only about the immigrant experience is to limit its breadth. I thought Henriquez handled the issue of how parents try to adjust to a child who has suffered a brain injury was nuanced and honest. And the depiction of the child in question is excellent as well.

I also think that books that address an important issue well often get overlooked when it comes to the quality of their writing. Henriquez’s prose – especially her verb choices – are wonderful. And the passage that explains the title has to be read out loud to be appreciated.

This book would be an excellent companation for Enrique’s Journey or even The Grapes of Wrath. It has that documentary feel thanks to Henriquez’s use of detail and intermediary chapters that resonate with honesty and clarity.

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