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2018 Common Reader

The Book of Unknown Americans
by Cristina Henríquez

Cristina Henríquez's novel The Book of Unknown Americans introduces us to the Rivera family, who have come to the United States from Mexico on a visa so that daughter Maribel can attend a special school to help her overcome the aftereffects of brain trauma from an accident. They leave their comfortable life in Mexico where Arturo Rivera has his own construction company and settle in Delaware, where Arturo finds a job picking mushrooms for long hours to support his wife, Alma, and their daughter. Alma watches over Maribel and tries to negotiate the new world she has found herself in. Neighbors in their apartment building turn into friends and allies, as it turns out they are all immigrants from Central and South America. Many of their voices appear in the novel, as they tell how they came to the United States, while the present-day narrative is told largely by Alma and Mayor, the teenaged son of neighbors, a nice guy who takes a shine to Maribel. Their developing relationship plays out against the backdrop of these stories of "the unknown Americans," whom we come to know through their own voices, only to find they have the same dreams and heartbreaks we all do, and some we can only imagine through the power of story.

Published in 2014, The Book of Unknown Americans was named a New York Times and Washington Post Notable Book, an NPR Great Read, The Daily Beast's Novel of the Year, and a Mother Jones,, School Library Journal, and BookPage Best Book