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The Book of Unknown Americans: A Novel | [Cristina Henríquez]

The Book of Unknown Americans: A Novel

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.
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Publisher's Summary

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.

©2014 Cristina Henriquez (P)2014 Random House Audio

What the Critics Say

“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)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.1 (180 )
5 star
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2 star
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1 star
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4.1 (151 )
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Story
4.4 (151 )
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3 star
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2 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Amazon Customer PARIS, TX, United States 01-04-15
    Amazon Customer PARIS, TX, United States 01-04-15 Member Since 2008

    Lawyer, reader, writer, performer. Just love listening to books and talking about it!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    Story
    "The Book of Re-Opening my Heart"

    I wasn't expecting much from this book, especially not a trip down memory lane. I love that it helped remind me of stories from my past. It helped me remember why I have such a heart for immigrants. It humanized the current politics and taught me things I didn't know. It was interesting to me that the setting was not Texas. I kept being surprised that Delaware was the location but I think that was a good thing as it gives a fresh look.

    It was hard for me to read, because I kept waiting for the axe to drop, but in the end I couldn't put it down. The sweetest story to me was that of Alma and Arturo, the couple that moves in order to help their daughter get better from a brain injury. Theirs is just an unadulterated pure love for each other and for their daughter. There are other stories mixed in, and I actually liked this, it gave me a break from the story that I knew was going to be difficult every step of the way. The name of the book comes from one of those stories and by the time it is delivered, you know how true it is.

    First time I've actually wept at the end of a book in a long, long time. I love my country but we are so screwed up.

    One favorite quote, from Arturo: "I'll tell them what I love about this country."

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Beth Anne Philadelphia, PA, United States 07-06-14
    Beth Anne Philadelphia, PA, United States 07-06-14 Member Since 2012

    i like to read. i like to listen.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "interesting view into the immigrant experience"

    this was a really interesting book, giving some insight into the immigrant experience in America today. told by different characters, it mostly telling the story of two familes (one from Panama, one from Mexico) and their children's doomed love affair.

    i think it was tragic and cute and sad and sometimes nerve wracking. a well written and quick view into the experiences of Spanish speaking immigrants and the challenges they face when coming to America. i liked it and can see why it's getting all the praise it has.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Daryl Edmonton, Alberta, Canada 03-02-15
    Daryl Edmonton, Alberta, Canada 03-02-15
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Beautiful look at the Immigrant experience"
    What made the experience of listening to The Book of Unknown Americans the most enjoyable?

    I loved this look into the lives of several Latin American immigrants to the United States. It is primarily about two families, with stories of friends and neighbors adding depth and complexity to their tale. Someone described it as "teen lit", but I disagree; it addresses universal themes of identity, belonging, finding home, and expectations. It can appeal to teenagers, as two of the main characters are 15-16 years old, but it is by no means strictly targeted at teenagers.


    If you could take any character from The Book of Unknown Americans out to dinner, who would it be and why?

    I would take Alma out to dinner. She obviously loves Maribel so much, but her love can sometimes be viewed as stifling. I would give her a big hug and tell her that Maribel may not be able to process things "normally", but she is a woman, with dreams and hopes, who just may not be able to articulate them.


    Any additional comments?

    This book is beautiful, with threads of hope, despair, love, and belonging. the narration is wonderful, with some narrators stronger than others.
    A well worthwhile read!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kimberly 11-16-14
    Kimberly 11-16-14
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    "Teen Lit"
    This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

    This book should be considered teen lit. I'm notably under impressed and under engaged.


    What was most disappointing about Cristina Henríquez’s story?

    Lack of depth


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Grace 08-13-14
    Grace 08-13-14
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    "Well worth reading !"

    Well written. Loved this book; loved the several narrators for the different characters. Spanish immigrants from from several western hemisphere countries come to Wilmington, Delaware and their stories unfold. Their dreams, feelings, goals were like anyone's so that ethnicity and education seemed irrelevant. I could "see" and feel their challenges of being immigrants,their hesitations and questions as they learned about a new country and culture, their successes & failures & frustrations & love & anger & despair. All of this is wrapped in the stories of 2 families who meet in their housing complex, of the son, Mayor, who befriend's the other family's teenage daughter who suffered brain damage after an accident, of the paths their lives take as half truths, events untold, and miscommunications lead to innocent and unintended outcomes.
    The author includes immigrants from several Spanish speaking countries-- some for only a chapter -- as a way to share the differences in origins and what it is like to be looked at "as all the same," with, in this case, Americans not trying to get to know and see each person as an individual. Personally, it put a possible identity to the person who delivers our newspaper every morning of the year. This is Maribel's story, too -- of her parents' love and concern since the accident that handicaps their seeing her as she now is and can be; of Mayor's acceptance and caring for who she is now, and the growth that this relationship fosters. Everyone gains insight, but not without cost.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    frizwhiz Carlsbad, CA, US 05-28-15
    frizwhiz Carlsbad, CA, US 05-28-15 Member Since 2014
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    "Powerful story, masterfully narrated."

    Really enjoyed this story, told mostly through the perspective of two characters, with occasional autobiographical introductions by others who didn't figure into the central storyline (but who broaden the reader's perspective as to the variety of "unknown Americans). Beautifully written and read with skill and emotion by a large cast.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jillian 05-18-15
    Jillian 05-18-15 Member Since 2014
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    "Best narration"

    I loved all of the narratives and the emotions in their voices...it's as if they were telling their own stories genuinely. Highly recommended!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Abby 05-01-15
    Abby 05-01-15 Member Since 2012
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    "Loved it"

    Just excellent. The story was catchy from the start. Lovely stories of unknown Americans. Sounds so true, believable, and heart-touching. Loved it.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carrie Judd 04-05-15
    Carrie Judd 04-05-15 Member Since 2014
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    3
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    "Lovely vignettes"

    Wonderfully written and told. A reminder about the sweet simplicity life can have and that we should appreciate it daily.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jennifer 03-15-15
    Jennifer 03-15-15 Member Since 2015
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Many narratives"

    This novel was a lot of things. It was a group of intertwining narratives. It was a live story. It was a game changer. It forces the reader to be introspective on judgements they make in life. It is certainly issue-oriented. It is poignant. It is a community.

    There are so many voices heard throughout this book and one can get lost in the structure - but there's a point to it, I promise! All of these voices make up the residents of an apartment building in Delaware. I loved reading about Mirabel throughout the book - almost as if I had watched her grow up. I couldn't help but cheer for Maribel and Mayor, each a child belonging to the two main families in the story, as he tried to get to know her better and understand what she needed from him.

    The author does a fantastic job at painting the struggles these residents have experienced since immigrating to the U.S. She doesn't drill hard into the political sides of the debate, but rather helps us to relate to the individuals as human beings in order to better understand what they've been through.

    Small critiques would be that there were one or two characters that the reader is introduced to that either needed to be flushed out a bit more or were added in excess. It broke the flow a bit to have a couple of characters that weren't as fully involved in the intertwining story.

    The multiple narrators actually worked very well with this novel.

    Overall, this was a great read and a great novel.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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