Liliana Cruz has issues. Her mom is too strict, her little brothers are annoying, her best friend is ignoring her for her new boyfriend, she’s leaving her Boston high school in Jamaica Plain for a rich suburban school, and oh yeah, her dad has been deported.
In this rich and poignant coming-of-age novel, Jennifer De Leon tackles some ripped-from-the-headlines topics through an engaging young narrator with an authentic voice. I loved it, my teenager loved it, and I think you will too.
Unsurprising for a book about the American-born child of immigrants, Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is a story about journeys. Every school day, Liliana gets up at 5 am to make the journey from her urban apartment to the rich, white suburbs. And they were all white. Allllll white, observing the changes in the neighborhoods as she watches out the window of the school bus. She becomes obsessed with the journeys of migrants, some children, risking life and limb to get to the United States from Central America. Her father is on a mysterious and dangerous journey to get back home.
As is usually the case though, the most difficult journey is the internal one. Readers experience the casual racism and stereotyping Liliana must endure, microaggressions ranging from ignorant to hateful. De Leon beautifully conveys how exhausting it is for Liliana to code-switch, and navigate the halls of her new school while still being true to her old self. The situation boils over at a pep rally that becomes a protest, where slogans I currently hear in the streets of my city are chanted in the gymnasium of Liliana’s high school. As I read, I thought “how prescient…” and then I realized, just as Liliana and her bussed-in peers do, no, it’s not prescient, it’s just that not enough has changed.
The book ends on a hopeful note, however, and Liliana’s journey has a happy ending. With writing this powerful, I’m more happy and hopeful too.
Dad, he was never scared of the dark. He said you needed dark so that light could be light. One was nothing without the other. The hard times, he said, made you stronger. And, you know how you hear that stuff, and it all feels totally cliche? But then when you need it, it’s weird, yeah, I know, but it kinda helps.
Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From
Jennifer De Leon
Simon & Schuster – Atheneum Books
More books for this Age Group can be found here.
My thanks to Simon & Schuster Atheneum Books for providing a Review Copy of this book. All opinions provided herein are my own.
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Emma has been, variously, a dancer, a singer, a lawyer, a writer, and a teacher. However her best job remains mom. She has a variety of advanced degrees she doesn’t use. She lives with her husband, their three teen-aged children, her nonagenarian father, a dog, and two cats, in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she reads, writes, and plays tennis. Not all at once.
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