TBR Pile Challenge: The Book of Unknown Americans

I don’t even know what’s wrong with me that I’m having such trouble posting anything lately. It would be great if I could attribute this to still being in a reading slump but I’m not. At all.

I’ve been reading wonderful, engaging, thought-provoking, funny, escapist books.

Let’s try and reset shall we?

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez.

This book has been on my list for a while – pretty much since it came out. Which made it the perfect candidate for my 2016 TBR Pile Challenge list. It’s not official this year, but Holly and Amanda @ Gun in Act One wanted to go for it again this year and asked if I wanted to join in. I haven’t figured out how to say no to them yet so here we are.


Arturo and Alma move to America from Mexico to give their daughter a chance at a special school to handle her traumatic brain injury. Maribel has been recovering well after her accident but her doctors think that a specialized school is necessary and they just don’t exist in Mexico. So they pack up their lives and move to America, doing all the things the right way. They end up living in a squalid one-bedroom apartment in a complex filled with immigrants, Arturo working long days in the dark on a mushroom farm.

Soon their lives find a new rhythm in this strange place that isn’t like anything they anticipated. They make friends with other people in their building, including the Toros, a family from Panama whose son Mayor falls in love with Maribel. Soon their relationship makes the parents uncomfortable and they have to confront the consequences.

Woven through their stories are the stories of the other residents. Immigrants who come to America for opportunity, to look after their families back home, to start over.

I’m not sure that I’ve read too many books like this one. This book puts a spotlight on Hispanic immigrants and their experiences in America. It deals with the kinds of conflict they can run into, the fear of the unknown, language barriers, economic uncertainty and the idea through it all that they have come to the land of opportunity even if they aren’t accepted by everyone.

This book totally made me cry. The Riveras and the Toros are trying to make a success of this new American life in the face of so many obstacles and no one wants to accept them. They look down on them as immigrants as if the entire country wasn’t founded on immigration. I also really loved the relationship between Mayor and Maribel. Maribel is a beautiful girl but since her accident, she isn’t the same girl and Mayor is the only one that accepts her the way that she is, allowing her a chance to find her way back to herself.

I wanted the other stories to be fleshed out more – I wanted to know what happened to them. I think I found out in the end and it was so sad – a genius storytelling method from Henriquez.

I love this TBR Pile challenge for forcing me to finally read books I’ve been meaning to get to for a while. Mostly they’ve all been wonderful and I’m glad for the excuse of finally getting to them.

So that’s getting things back on track. Will try to use some of the weekend to get more stuff up on here!

19 thoughts on “TBR Pile Challenge: The Book of Unknown Americans

  1. Hey, I bought his book last weekend!! I’m so glad you got a chance to read it 😀 It looks like the TBR Pile challenge proved successful.

    I’ll be reviewing this one in the next few weeks. Not sure yet, but I was hoping to read it very soon. I’m glad you liked it.

  2. Sounds like you liked this one more than me. I found it so-so. I couldn’t help compare it with TC Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain, which I regard as a bit of a masterpiece and which covers the same kind of ground but I’m a much more immersive (and political) way.

  3. I’ve also had my eye on this book since it came out and had so many good things said about it. It’s nice to be reminded of the books that came out a while ago, but which not everyone has gotten around to reading yet. I love the idea of getting a look inside the lives of the other immigrant families living in the same building. And, yay for whittling away at that tbr pile!

    • Sometimes it’s hard to go back and get excited about the books you wanted to read back when. I’m glad this reminded you about this one. It’s totally worth the read – I think you’d really enjoy it.
      Feels so good to chip away at the list. I took Grapes of Wrath out of the library this week – almost started reading it last night but then I got all intimidated by it.

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  5. Ah! I am jealous you read this!! I heard her do a reading when it came out and have been wanting to pick this up ever since. I started another book for the TBR Challenge and it was dumb. So I am now hereby renouncing that one and requesting this at the library.

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  7. I’m so happy you loved this, Eva! It definitely made me cry too. The way the community comes together in the face of tragedy is just so heartwarming.

  8. Pingback: 2016 TBR Pile Challenge: Half of a Yellow Sun | The Paperback Princess

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