Friday, October 10, 2014

Texas Book Festival: The Book of Unknown Americans

Here's a no brainer because Gianna surely has already convinced you to join her in stalking Bret Anthony Johnston for his book Remember Me Like This. Johnson isn't the only author appearing at that event, though. Cristina Henriquez is the incredibly talented author of The Book of Unknown Americans, a moving novel about the immigrant experience for a family that moves to Delaware.

The Book of Unknown Americans tells the story of Arturo and Alma Rivera, native Mexicans living a good, middle class life in their home country. One day their 15 year-old daughter Maribel falls while trying to climb a ladder and suffers a head injury. Seeking the best care and school for their daughter, the family moves to Delaware so that Maribel can recover and attend a school specially equipped to deal with kids with special needs. Maribel isn't stupid, but after the injury she's different. They move into a run-down apartment building full of other immigrants and while there Maribel meets Mayor, another teen living in the complex, and they become friends.

Cristina Henriquez manages to capture the lives of the various apartment complex residents humanely and tells a different immigrant story than the ones we hear on the news. These aren't anchor baby, undocumented, vilified people trying to milk the system for handouts (and for the record I don't think that archetype even exists beyond the world of xenophobes and talking heads, but it's hard to escape that trope when living in Texas or any other border state). Universally, I think, people of all nationalities generally want the best opportunities possible for their families. The Book of Unknown Americans captures this idea as well as the daily lives of people often unseen. It's a great book for reading groups, community reads programs, and lovers of books like The House on Mango Street.

Cristina Henriquez will be speaking at 11:30 on Saturday, October 25, in the Texas State Capitol: Capitol Extension Room E1.026.

Full Texas Book Festival 2014 schedule here.

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