I am still feeling a little devastated after having finished reading this beautiful novel by Cristina Henríquez, the first novel of a group of sixteen that I am reading with a student as part of an independent study project. Okay, perhaps I am feeling a bit manipulated by the highly-emotional sequence in the last part of the novel, but at that point I was too deeply involved to break my pact with the characters. I had to finish reading this! Written in a very easy to read style (the language is never demanding, the author never steps forward to make herself too obvious), this was a good first book. A few times I have caught my student, sitting in the back of my room, engrossed in the book and not even distracted by the TPRS circus.
Knowing that we will be reading Chicano by Richard Vasquez later in the year, this will be a first run through the themes of alienation and belonging that run through literature written by Hispanics in the USA (the novel was originally published in English). These stories so often end tragically, they are so melodramatic, that I have to remind myself that melodrama is a common narrative structure in popular Mexican culture. Perhaps the over-the-top, brown versus white plot elements is helpfully alienating to the Anglo reader. In any case, El libro de los americanos desconocidos does not lead to an overtly political agenda like Chicano did in its day. Tightly wrapped into this novel is a love story that will enchant adolescents. It is a good choice for mature students.