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The Book of Unknown Americans

3.84  ·  Rating Details ·  21,514 Ratings  ·  2,726 Reviews
A dazzling, heartbreaking page-turner destined for breakout status: a novel that gives voice to millions of Americans as it tells the story of the love between a Panamanian boy and a Mexican girl: teenagers living in an apartment block of immigrant families like their own.
After their daughter Maribel suffers a near-fatal accident, the Riveras leave Mexico and come to Amer
Audio CD, 9 pages
Published June 3rd 2014 by Books on Tape
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Sue S I think it is appropriate for high school. It deals with love and some kissing. I am a children's librarian, and would be very comfortable with…moreI think it is appropriate for high school. It deals with love and some kissing. I am a children's librarian, and would be very comfortable with recommending it to teens.(less)

Community Reviews

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Maribel Rivera is a normal teenaged girl in Patzcuaro, Mexico when one day she goes with her mother to her father's work site and suffers a traumatic brain injury. No longer the prize of Patzcuaro, Maribel retreats into a shell, suffers headaches, and can not complete even the most basic school work. Her parents Alma and Arturo Rivera would do anything for their daughter, look up schools for special needs children in the United States, and leave the only life they knew behind and move to Wilming ...more
Dec 09, 2013 Roxane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What struck me most about this novel is the structure whose purpose becomes clear with the last chapter. It is quite interesting and poignant. This novel is a reminder of how everyone who comes to the United States brings a complicated storyw ith them. In The Book of Unknown Americans, immigrants from México, Venezuela, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, etc. live in an apartment complex in Delaware. Though they come from all over the Spanish speaking world, they have more in common than they do not and th ...more
Daniel Simmons
Call me cold-hearted but I found this novel both overly simplistic and overly sentimental, with too few genuine characters and too many archetypes who say things to each other like, "Finding is for things that are lost. You don't need to find me, Mayor." Does anybody really talk like that? If the book's simplicity and sentimentality help its overall message -- hey, immigrants are people too! -- gain traction with large groups of readers in the States, great. But just because I sympathize with th ...more
The Book of Unknown Americans by Christina Henriquez is a 2014 Knopf publication.

I’ve been looking to expand my reading repertoire lately, so while browsing through the literary offerings, I came across this book. Checking this book out is like doing a 180 for me as I usually stick pretty close to my preferred genres.

But, something about it spoke to me and so I decided to give it a try.

So often we hear about laws, and issues, and the numbers surrounding immigration without stopping to consid
Jun 25, 2014 Alena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’ve waited to post a review of this novel as I try to wrap my mind (and words) around why I liked it so much. This book wants to be a lot of things – love story, issue-oriented novel, independent essays – which should make it a mess, but somehow all work together to make a book that really touched my heart.

The story is told in alternating voices as we meet the residents of an apartment building in Delaware. All the residents are immigrants and all are Spanish-speaking despite their origins in m
Jul 20, 2014 Kkraemer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
According to our government, every American who earns $50,000 a year contributes $43.78 to welfare and food stamps. Many Americans resent this deeply. Many are very very committed to being sure that no one "gets away" with this $43.78, especially anyone who is here from South of the Border.

"Those people….."

All Americans should read this book about "those people." It presents a series of interconnected stories about a family who came to the U.S. to get services for their injured child, a family
Aug 20, 2014 David rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book could have been so much better than it was.

As it is, it's a trainwreck. The only reason I gave it two stars instead of one is simply because it's bizarrely readable even in spite of the very little substance there is at hand.

Where do I even begin with this books issues? The rhythm the book sets into -- Alma-narrated chapter, Mayor-narrated chapter, and brief bio of a tertiary character -- had potential. Yet the tertiary characters' chapters all read painfully alike, with seemingly the
Diane S ☔
3.5 The immigrant debate and the need for immigrant reform is an issue that has been the forefront of the news in The United States for a number of months. I am not going to give my own opinion on this debate, only mention it as it refers to the timeliness of this novel.

The book mostly centers on two families, one who come to the US from Panama and the devastation wrought by the invasion of the US in 1989 and the other family who come from Mexico in order to get the help and schooling their brai
Feb 01, 2015 Louise rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
There is very little fiction covering the contemporary Latino immigrant experience so this book may have made the 2014 New York Times Notables List for its content. While the story is good, there is no subtly. The author's purpose may be to show the goodness of the "unknown Americans", but the characters are not well developed and the details of their lives are not realistic.

Can it really be that a successful couple in Mexico who has researched US schools for special needs students, found a job
Feb 07, 2016 Jeannie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Updated to 4 stars. I didn't want this book to end. I wanted to follow the characters and see where the rest of their lives took them. I recommend this one.
May 04, 2015 Jana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: booktopia
1) I listened to it the first time; this time I'll read the book.
2) This is our Skype bookclub pick for this month
3) I'll meet the author in Vermont in May

FINISHED 1st time: 2/12/15:
I finished this book and wrote my review on my mobile device. Unfortunately, that device has gone the way of the dinosaur and my notes didn't make it to the cloud in time.

For now:
I loved this novel of various immigrants from all over Latin America living in an apartment complex in Delaware. Immigration is
Jul 29, 2016 Melissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
More than anything, I appreciate the fresh perspective and the eye-opening nature of this story. Immigration is a sensitive topic and a political platform in our country right now, there’s no denying that. Don’t worry, I’m not going to try and tackle that issue in this review. What I will say - I walked away from this story looking at things a little differently. It made me feel like the human aspect of the situation is too easily overlooked.

I think we forget that some of these immigrants are ju
This story recounts the immigrant experience of a vast array of Latinos on the eastern central coast of America, in Delaware. It moves in for close-ups of two families in particular, one Panamanian and one Mexican. Both families are legal immigrants, one coming to the United States for medical care, the other for opportunity.

Christina Henriquez manages to make the experiences of these two families ring true and universal. Especially interesting was the voice of Mayor Toro, teenager and younger
Sep 16, 2014 Dianne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alma and Arturo come from Mexico to Delaware, of all places, in the hopes that their brain-damaged daughter, Maribel, can get better help at a special needs school in the U.S. Their story is interspersed with testimonials from men and women from Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Panama and other places. All of the stories and vignettes combine into a whole that tells the tale of one immigrant community in America and the struggles they face trying to assimilate.

While enlightening and interesting
Aug 16, 2014 Licha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: culture, family
The title of this book is perfect because it is for all the people who have come to the United States, with a dream of a better life, but whose faces, voices, somehow get lost in the face of so much discrimination. But they do have a voice, they have a story to tell. They suffer pain, love as hard, laugh in happiness, the same as you and I. We really are not so different when we get to the core of it. As parents we all want to give our children a better life and we will make any sacrifice in ord ...more
Naz (Read Diverse Books)
Review can also be found at my blog:


At the heart of The Book of Unknown Americans are the Riveras, who managed to secure work Visas after their 15-year-old daughter, Maribel, suffered a traumatic brain injury in Mexico. With legal authorization to work in the U.S., Arturo and Alma Rivera move to Delaware to be near a special-needs school that they hope will help restore their daughter to the lively teenager she once was. In that small, cold, and bleak city in Dela
Diane Yannick
Nov 10, 2014 Diane Yannick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the things that initially drew me to this book is that it takes place in my hometown of Newark, Delaware. Throughout I enjoyed references to local landmarks such as Bings Bakery and Newark Newsstand. However, as Henriquez gently revealed the characters' struggles and hearts, I forgot about the setting and became absorbed with the narrative.

There were a couple things that set this book apart from most I've read about the immigrant experience. Arturo, Alma and Maribel, one of the families
Larry Hoffer
I'd rate this 3.5 stars.

Arturo and Alma Rivera lived a happy life in Mexico until their beautiful teenage daughter, Maribel, sustains a serious injury in an accident. Unsure if she'll ever be the same again, they migrate to the United States—Delaware, specifically—where Maribel will be able to attend a special school and hopefully begin to recover some semblance of normalcy. But America is difficult for the Riveras—the job Arturo secures to sponsor their journey to America is brutal, Maribel doe
I read this book with the Writers of Color Book Club and I have to say, I am on the fence about this book. On one hand, the book was interesting due to it's cast of characters who all had a voice and the issues of immigration and how Latinos are seen in America were really intriguing to me since I very rarely see books written from this demographic of people in my TBR pile. Yet, I felt like the execution of the book was at odds with the story.

For me, the story it self put me in mind of more dive
This is partly the story of two teenage lovers. It is also a story about families: what they do to and for each other. And lastly this is the story of immigrants making their home in a new place, one where they're often rejected no matter how hard they try to fit in or how good they are as people.

There were moments of lyrical beauty and times when the writing soared but for the most part the writing was easy to read but not exceptional.

However, I felt that I drew close to the characters and came
Beth Knight
Feb 12, 2016 Beth Knight rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars. The Book of Unknown Americans is a heart wrenching book that, although I can't say from personal experience, seems to perfectly describe the immigrant experience. I feel like I really got to know the main characters, and I sympathized with all the hardships and heartbreaks they endured. Every time I put the book down I found myself thinking of them and wondering what was going to happen to them. By the end of the book I had tears streaming down my face. I highly recommend it and look ...more
Tess Roman
May 16, 2016 Tess Roman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book Is really good
Alma and Arturo Rivera traveled from Mexico to settle in a run-down apartment building in Delaware, and furnished it with items found on the side of the road. Although they were happy in Mexico, Arturo obtained a work visa so that their daughter Maribel could attend an American school for children with special needs. The beautiful fifteen-year-old girl had a fall that resulted in a traumatic brain injury.

Their neighbors, the Toro family, offer them friendship and encouragement. The Toros were le
Jan 26, 2015 Elyse rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I met Christina in Austin, Texas, back on Oct. at the Book Festival....had a chance to hear her speak about writing this book --her passion for it.

Its since just won the large 'book award' in San Jose this year. "Silicon Valley Reads" picks 1 to 3 books each year as standout books which the city will be reading --'as -a city'.

Living in San Jose, Calif. --we've been called 'the melting pot' of America.

In Christina Henriquez's book "The Book of Unknown American's"....Latino immigrants come from
This story focuses on 2 immigrant families, living in an apt building in Delaware ( from some of the reviews I have read it seems that people don't realize DE is full of farms, & who works on these farms? Mexicans, Panamanians, Guatemalans, etc). Each chapter is told from a different person's point of view, some are mini glimpses of other people who live in the building but many of the chapters revolve around the Rivera & the Toro families....To me, the story shows what people will do fo ...more
Mar 02, 2015 Cathie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015-rc-goal
It’s amazing, isn’t it, what parents will do for their children?

This is a story about a boy and a girl – trying to fit in, yet finding solace and acceptance with each other.

This is also a story about the residents who live in a run-down apartment building in Small Town USA. We are slowly introduced to them sharing their stories of the why they left their native land to seek their chance in America.

I thought maybe if I came here, I can make a difference.

The author does a great job of introd
Jul 10, 2014 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There aren't enough stars for this one. Such a beautiful story, it left me both heartbroken & hopeful. I'm guessing it won't be long before it's required reading.
Oct 22, 2016 Melissa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This wasn't the story I thought I'd be getting when I started it, it was so much more and so much better. Yes, there are the stories of immigrants from Central and South America, but there are also overarching storylines that tie them all together and are heartrendingly beautiful and inspiring, and sad all in their own turn. Definitely some surprises along the way. Gorgeous storytelling. I was easily sucked into the lives of these characters and their families and neighbors.
Susanne Carter
Jun 14, 2014 Susanne Carter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

The Hispanic immigrants who share a modest apartment complex in Delaware and various versions of the American dream speak in their own voices in this beautifully written, insightful novel. The plot focuses on two families brought together and torn apart again by tragedies. Woven among the chapters devoted to the main plot are unrelated chapters that narrate the experiences of other Latin American immigrants. The combination works.

Although the characters in this novel experience discrimination,
Jessica Woodbury
Jul 20, 2015 Jessica Woodbury rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc, authors-of-color, bff
Henriquez does an admirable job of giving you a look inside the modern immigrant experience without the kind of agenda that can make these stories less effective. The book centers on two families, the Riveras from Mexico and the Toros from Panama. Their experiences are vastly different. The Toros have lived in the US for well over a decade after escaping their unstable homeland. The Riveras are brand new, on temporary visas in an effort to get their teenage daughter into a school that can help h ...more
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Cristina Henríquez is the author of the novel The World in Half, and of a short story collection entitled Come Together, Fall Apart. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Ploughshares, and elsewhere, and she was featured in Virginia Quarterly Review as one of “Fiction's New Luminaries.” She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and the recipient of an Alfredo Cisneros De ...more
More about Cristina Henriquez...

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“we're the unknown Americans, the ones no one even wants to know, because they've been told they're supposed to be scared of us and because maybe if they did take the time to get to know us, they might realize that we're not that bad, maybe even that we're a lot like them. And who would they hate then?” 26 likes
“People do what they have to in this life. We try to get from one end of it to the other with dignity and with honor. We do the best we can.” 19 likes
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