Synopses & Reviews
A dazzling, heartbreaking page-turner destined for breakout status: a novel that gives voice to millions of Americans as it tells the story of the love between a Panamanian boy and a Mexican girl: teenagers living in an apartment block of immigrant families like their own.
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. Peopled with deeply sympathetic characters, this poignant yet unsentimental tale of young love tells a riveting story of unflinching honesty and humanity that offers a resonant new definition of what it means to be an American. An instant classic is born.
“A triumph of storytelling. Henríquez pulls us into the lives of her characters with such mastery that we hang on to them just as fiercely as they hang on to one another and their dreams. This passionate, powerful novel will stay with you long after you’ve turned the final page.” Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
“Observant...a bighearted ensemble of a story....Henríquez covers the gamut of the immigrant experience: how they arrived in America, why they came, what they think of their new home, whether they miss their first home. In other words, she captures an experience at the heart of this country’s history that is often a cursory, incomplete story in the media.” Kirkus
“Timely...powerful...genuinely moving...a chronicle of a beautiful Mexican teenager named Maribel Rivera and her admiring friend and neighbor, Mayor Toro. Maribel and Mayor’s star-crossed love lends this novel an emotional urgency; the story of their families gives us a visceral sense of the magnetic allure of America, and the gaps so many immigrants find here between expectations and reality....Henríquez’s myriad gifts as a writer shine.” Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Gripping...genuinely devastating. Henríquez has found a memorable way to open up complex topics — discrimination, love and grief in family life, and the experiences of being displaced or feeling at home. A novel that can both make you think and break your heart.” San Francisco Chronicle
“Reminiscent of the chorus of voices that made Oscar Lewis’s The Children of Sanchez so memorable, and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things so profoundly humane, Henriquez’s tale about coming to America is a striking original....With a simple, unadorned prose that rises to the level of poetry, Henríquez achieves the seemingly impossible: Without a trace of sentimentality, without an iota of self-indulgence or dogma, she tells us about coming to America. The Book of Unknown Americans leaves you in thrall to its vivid characters and its author’s sure hand.” The Washington Post
“Here is an important story about family, community and identity, told with elegance and compassion. The Book of Unknown Americans is unforgettable.” Jami Attenberg, author of The Middlesteins
“Each scene, voice, misunderstanding, and alliance is beautifully realized and brimming with feeling in the acclaimed Henríquez’s compassionately imagined, gently comedic, and profoundly wrenching novel of big dreams and crushing reality, courageous love and unfathomable heartbreak.” Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred)
“Lyrical....There is beautiful writing in these pages [that] illustrates the full ethnic range of the Americas and how so many people south of our border ended up here. I’m not spoiling it to say that Henríquez brings the story to a heart-crushing explosion of an end fueled by secrets, love, fear and ethnic tension. Bottom line, if you read only one more book about the immigrant experience, make it this one.” Dallas Morning News
“Spectacular...highly believable and poignant....A well-written story set among ‘unknown Americans,’ ostensibly Hispanic but in many ways any family adjusting to a new culture and way of life, regardless of ethnicity.” Library Journal
A boy and a girl who fall in love. Two families whose hopes collide with destiny. An extraordinary novel that offers a resonant new definition of what it means to be American.
Arturo and Alma Rivera have lived their whole lives in Mexico. One day, their beautiful fifteen-year-old daughter, Maribel, sustains a terrible injury, one that casts doubt on whether she’ll ever be the same. And so, leaving all they have behind, the Riveras come to America with a single dream: that in this country of great opportunity and resources, Maribel can get better.
When Mayor Toro, whose family is from Panama, sees Maribel in a Dollar Tree store, it is love at first sight. It’s also the beginning of a friendship between the Rivera and Toro families, whose web of guilt and love and responsibility is at this novel’s core.
Woven into their stories are the testimonials of men and women who have come to the United States from all over Latin America. Their journeys and their voices will inspire you, surprise you, and break your heart.
Suspenseful, wry and immediate, rich in spirit and humanity, The Book of Unknown Americans is a work of rare force and originality.
About the Author
Cristina Henríquez is the author of the story collection Come Together, Fall Apart, which was a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection, and the novel The World in Half. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The American Scholar, Glimmer Train, Virginia Quarterly Review, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, AGNI, and Oxford American, as well as in various anthologies. She lives in Illinois.