Synopses & Reviews
A powerful and moving account of four young women from Mexico who have lived most of their lives in the United States and attend the same high school. Two of them have legal documentation and two do not. Just Like Us is their story.
A stunning work of in-depth journalism in the tradition of Random Family, Helen Thorpe's Just Like Us takes us deep into an American subculture -- that of Mexican immigrants -- largely hidden from the mainstream. We meet four girls on the eve of their senior prom, in Denver, Colorado. Each is bright and ambitious and an excellent student. Their leader, Marisela, dazzles teachers during the day and spends her evenings checking groceries to help pay the bills. She dreams of college and a professional career -- but she doesn't have a green card or a Social Security number because her parents brought her across the border illegally.
Marisela's best friend, Yadira, shares her predicament. But they spend all of their time with two girls who are legal -- Elissa, who was born in the United States, and Clara, who has a green card. Each of the girls views the others as her equals, yet the world does not treat them that way.
Their situation becomes increasingly painful and complex as the four young women approach adulthood, and Marisela and Yadira watch their two legal friends gain opportunities that are not available to them. All four hold American aspirations, but only Clara and Elissa have the documents necessary to realize those hopes. Their friendship starts to divide along lines of immigration status.
Then a political firestorm begins. An illegal immigrant commits a horrendous crime in Denver, and a local congressman seizes on the act as proof of all that is wrong with American society. Arguments over immigration rage fiercely, and the girls' lives play out against a backdrop of intense debate over whether they have any right to live in the country where they have grown up.
This brilliant, fast-paced work of narrative journalism is a vivid coming-of-age story about girlhood, friendship, and, most of all, identity -- what it means to fake an identity, steal an identity, or inherit an identity from one's parents and country. No matter what one's opinions are about immigration, Just Like Us offers fascinating insight into one of our most complicated social issues today. The girls, their families, those who welcome them, and those who object to their presence all must grapple with the same deep dilemma: Who is an American? Who gets to live in America? And what happens when we don't agree?
"An excellent, in-depth study of immigration policies gone amok." -- Library Journal
"With a gaze that is tender and ever alert, Helen Thorpe follows the lives of four young women -- Mexican and American -- so alike in their coming-of-age, but separated by the ironies of geography, the border that cuts through the heart." -- Richard Rodriguez, author of Brown: The Last Discovery of America
"This is a penetrating, fair, and refreshingly personal examination of the passions that fuel the immigration controversy in this country. Helen Thorpe measures the arguments on both sides of this national debate against the actual human costs imposed by the status quo. This book will find a central place in this debate." -- Lawrence Wright, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
"With a perfect combination of narrative and reflection, empathy and analysis, Helen Thorpe tells both a particular story of four irresistibly engaging young women, and a universal story of the struggle between human aspiration and intractable obstacles. If this book gets widely read, our national conversation on immigration could make a shift from 'shrill and draining' to 'thoughtful and productive.' In this book, the force and power of journalism reach their peak." -- Patricia Nelson Limerick, author of The Legacy of Conquest and Something in the Soil
“Thorpe puts a human face on a frequently obtuse conversation, and in so doing takes us far beyond the political rhetoric." —O Magazine.
Just Like Us
tells the story of four high school students whose parents entered this country illegally from Mexico. We meet the girls on the eve of their senior prom in Denver, Colorado. All four of the girls have grown up in the United States, and all four want to live the American dream, but only two have documents. As the girls attempt to make it into college, they discover that only the legal pair sees a clear path forward. Their friendships start to divide along lines of immigration status.
Then the political firestorm begins. A Mexican immigrant shoots and kills a police officer. The author happens to be married to the Mayor of Denver, a businessman who made his fortune in the restaurant business. In a bizarre twist, the murderer works at one of the Mayor’s restaurants—under a fake Social Security number. A local Congressman seizes upon the murder as proof of all that is wrong with American society and Colorado becomes the place where national arguments over immigration rage most fiercely. The rest of the girls’ lives play out against this backdrop of intense debate over whether they have any right to live here.
Just Like Us is a coming-of-age story about girlhood and friendship, as well as the resilience required to transcend poverty. It is also a book about identity—what it means to steal an identity, what it means to have a public identity, what it means to inherit an identity from parents. The girls, their families, and the critics who object to their presence allow the reader to watch one of the most complicated social issues of our times unfurl in a major American city. And the perspective of the author gives the reader insight into both the most powerful and the most vulnerable members of American society as they grapple with the same dilemma: Who gets to live in America? And what happens when we don’t agree?
About the Author
Helen Thorpe was born in London and grew up in Medford, New Jersey. Her journalism has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, and The Texas Observer. Thorpe has worked for Texas Monthly, The New York Observer, and The New Yorker, where she wrote "Talk of the Town" stories. She is married to John Hickenlooper, the mayor of Denver. Just Like Us is her first book.