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The Secret Side of Empty

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As a straight-A student with a budding romance and loyal best friend, M.T.’s life seems as apple-pie American as her blondish hair and pale skin. But M.T. hides two facts to the contrary: her full name of Monserrat Thalia and her status as an undocumented immigrant.

But it’s harder to hide now that M.T.’s a senior. Her school’s National Honor Society wants her to plan their trip abroad, her best friend won’t stop bugging her to get her driver’s license, and all everyone talks about is where they want to go to college. M.T. is pretty sure she can’t go to college, and with high school ending and her family life unraveling, she’s staring down a future that just seems empty. In the end, M.T. will need to trust herself and others to stake a claim in the life that she wants.

Author Maria E. Andreu draws from her personal experience as a (formerly) undocumented immigrant to explore an issue that affects over one million children in the U.S. But while the subject matter is timely, it is M.T.’s sharp, darkly funny voice and longing for a future that makes this story universally poignant.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published March 11, 2014

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About the author

Maria E. Andreu

7 books145 followers
Maria E. Andreu is the author of JULIETA AND THE ROMEOS, LOVE IN ENGLISH
(Balzer + Bray) and THE SECRET SIDE OF EMPTY. Her work has appeared in Literary Hub, Newsweek, The Washington Post, and the Newark Star Ledger.

LOVE IN ENGLISH is an Indie Next Pick, a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults book, and a Bank Street Best Book of the Year. Her debut novel, THE SECRET SIDE OF EMPTY, was a National Indie Excellence Book Award winner. Both titles were Junior Library Guild Selections.

She is a Red Dead aficionado, a cat herder,
and a believer in (and a skeptic of) happy endings.

Visit her at https://mariaeandreu.com.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 217 reviews
Profile Image for RitaSkeeter.
694 reviews
June 18, 2017
Something I loved about this book was that it brought my attention to a subject I knew little about; that being the lives of illegal immigrants in the US. Side note; 'illegal immigrant' is such a politically loaded phrase here that I feel uncomfortable writing it, but given that's how the character described herself I'm guessing that's okay terminology in the US??

Anyway, back to the point - the story follows MT, an intelligent, hard-working, and focused student, but one who doesn't have the future she wants or deserves because she is an 'illegal'. We follow the story of MT as goes through all the usual struggles of adolescence, such as first love, whilst becoming increaingly lost and without hope that she has a future.

Alongside this, the author shows us the struggles of MT's family, both immediate and extended, as they try to make their way in a country without the right papers. The family members react in differing ways.

As I've mentioned, this was not a topic I knew anything much at all about and for that reason alone I'm glad I read this book. The ways the characters reacted to their situations were believable and rang true. However, the writing was a tad flat for my taste and the dialogue was stiff and underdeveloped. But regardless of that, I appreciated the glimpse this book gave me into an issue I didn't know much about.
Profile Image for Jaclyn.
Author 18 books762 followers
August 9, 2014
I love it when a book surprises me. I picked this book up at ALA because I love hearing voices in books that I haven't heard before, and this book deals with an undocumented immigrant--Monserrat Thalia, whose family is from Argentina but who is blonde and pale and goes by M.T., hiding the truth from all her friends in her well-to-do New Jersey town.

But let's face it, I went to ALA and BEA this year and out of the 50+ books I came home with, this one wasn't the most glamorous-looking in the pile. I started reading it because it was sitting nearby when I had an idle moment.

I liked the beginning. Picked it up again the next day. By about 100 pages in I could hardly put it down. Loooooved this book. Loved M. T. I loved her cute first boyfriend, and her well-rounded life, and how true it felt even thought we have very different lives. I connected with her so much that when she finally talks to someone and breaks down, *I* started crying with her.

This book would also be a fantastic read paired with a discussion of immigration. I'm pro-immigration, but I also don't think about it that much. Building compassion is part of the great power of story, and this one is a wonderful example. It's not preachy, it just IS, and apparently draws a lot from the author's own experience...and that also makes it very powerful and thought-provoking.

This book deals with a LOT of issues, not just immigration but also domestic abuse and contemplation of suicide. Sometimes I was reminded of Eleanor and Park in the domestic abuse aspect paired with the cute first love and the fact that she doesn't want to tell anyone what's going on. One thing I liked is that, while the issues felt well-handled and real, the book overall didn't feel grim or heavy. A lot of people in this book are kind to M. T. and some of them surprise her, so there is also a sort of underlying message about how all people have a hidden side and there are many good people in the world. I loved that.

Highly recommended!!
Profile Image for Erica.
20 reviews9 followers
January 24, 2014
I was so lucky to be able to read an advanced copy of this book. Part of what I love about YA is how complicated and emotional topics can be broken down and made so ... real.

I admit that while I knew that there were real issues with immigration, and children of undocumented immigrants, it wasn't really until this book that I really heard a true "voice." It made me stop and think in a way that I hadn't before, about a topic that I just glossed over.

And aside from the central "issue" of the book -- I just loved the characters. Maybe because there was a personal experience here, but the voices just felt so real.

Ms. Andreu covers a lot of ground here - emotional and political - and I am so excited that soon lots of other people are going to be exposed to this. Just a great new addition to the YA genre.
Profile Image for Philip.
976 reviews258 followers
July 3, 2014
Any time we have a well-written story that humanizes a subset of our society that has been demonized or dehumanized, there is a chance it will be a worthwhile read.

With the overwhelming popularity of The Fault in Our Stars we're going to see a wave of YA realistic-fiction focusing on difficult topics. This is nothing new in YA. Laurie Halse Anderson wrote Speak in 1999. Judy Blume wrote Are You There God It's Me Margaret in 1970. But in an age overrun with Wizards, Zombies, and Vampires, realistic fiction is the next wave.

I can't tell you whether this book will be the next big sell or not. If there is hype for this book, I haven't seen it. But I can tell you that it's bloody fantastic.

While the book deals with several hot-button topics, they all revolve around (and are tied to) the undocumented status of Monserrat Thalia (M.T. - see the title of the book) and her family.

We all bring our own histories into the reading of books, and as always I'm bringing mine. I often think of my Haitian brother, and wonder what he's up to. Of course, our situation (for those of you who know it) pales in comparison to those of other families that are being torn apart by U.S. immigration laws. And I'm writing this from my own computer in an air-conditioned room in Northern Indiana... Not Port-au-Prince or Juarez.

Maybe I'm personalizing the message of this story too much, but isn't that what makes a book good? Or at least, one of the attributes that make it good...

Left or Right, we can probably all agree that Immigration Law in the United States is messed up. Something needs to change. But (and I hesitate to put this in here, because I don't want to turn my right-wing-leaning, or already-farther-right-wing-than-any-of-you-can-ever-imagine friends off to this fantastic book) I really question the right-wing approach to immigration. Especially coming from a God-fearing Christian background, my stance is: human beings are human beings. Period. Whether they speak English, Spanish or Vietnamese. Lets stop harming them, and start helping them.

And I ask myself this: America is the land of the free, right? I have to ask, who has the more fundamental grasp of what freedom is? The person holding this sign: Dreams Not Illegal

Or the people holding these signs:
anti illegal immigration

anti illegal immigration

It would be easy to go on a long diatribe here - and in fact I've already deleted three, but I feel like that would be a disservice to this book, which is very good.

Whether you think all people who have committed the crime of being born somewhere else need to be deported, or you believe we should give them a chance, I'm telling you: you should give this book a chance. Especially if you're already into YA.
4 reviews1 follower
January 17, 2014
The Secret Side of Empty is one of those books you can’t put down. And, because at some point you have to; when you do, you can’t stop thinking about it. M.T. has a secret that to her is so defining, so demeaning, so debilitating that she can’t share it with anyone – not her best friend, not her beloved teacher, not her boyfriend. And while the majority of readers have not lived M.T.’s secret, most of us can relate to a personal albatross, monkey on the back or gut-wrenching experience that has felt so unsurmountable that it has altered the way we live our lives.

M.T. is smart, witty and insightful, believable, lovable and frustrating. Whether she is battling her demons at home, interacting with her friends at school or fumbling her way through a relationship with her newfound love, she will make you laugh, make you cry and make you cringe.

The author has mastered the art of unveiling character traits and temperaments through conversation and actions, all the while remaining true to the teenage soul. The writing is beautiful, the pain is credible, and the victories are well won. The ending is satisfying, leaving you with fresh perspectives and a yearning for a sequel.

The Secret Side of Empty is a rare gem. It draws you out of yourself and deposits you right into M.T.’s troubled heart, which is a pretty nice place to spend some time.
Profile Image for Noura.
458 reviews120 followers
April 4, 2015
I have a lot of things to say about this book, I don't know where to start.

Okay I'll start with the one thought that was constantly poping in my mind, WHY

I always think about situations like this one, and I never get an answer.
If you can't provide a good life to your child, then don't bring him to life to suffer. That simple.

In the last part of the book I was thinking about how come the author knew all of this, how did she describe it like this, and I felt somehow she must gone through it, and when I read her note I just knew it. Maybe she didn't go through the whole thing, but maybe she knew someone who wasn't lucky enough to tell his story.

I cried of course, life sometimes can be unfair, and you've to remind yourself of that. And if you are lucky you'll try to be optimistic about it, if you aren't, then I don't have a clue of what you should do..
Profile Image for emma.
767 reviews28 followers
August 28, 2016
This book is kind of really really good.

The voice is amazing and perfect and the characters… love them.

It was such a good perspective to read… I mean who reads/writes about illegal immigrants and portrays them as human? this book does. and the darkness to it was a good level… not too much but enough to make you sad but not so crappy that you feel like committing suicide reading it. really good.
Profile Image for Michelle (Undeniably Book Nerdy).
1,154 reviews68 followers
March 14, 2014
It sucks you in and never lets go until the novel ends. And even then... I'm going to be thinking of this one for days. M.T. was an intriguing characters--I felt for her and her situation but she's not entirely sympathetic either (e.g., her relationship with her mother, who was a more sympathetic character). Instead she's very much a teenager, very human and very compelling. Full review to come.

Full review (originally posted on Michelle & Leslie's Book Picks)

I won't be surprised if The Secret Side of Empty wins a bunch of awards. Because, yep, it's that good. The novel is a little over 300 pages and I read it within 24 hours. I haven't read a 300+ book that fast in... well, forever. Right from the get go M.T.'s (her full name was Monserrat Thalia) voice and situation sucks you in and you pretty much have to keep reading until you're done.

The main theme of The Secret Side of Empty was being an undocumented immigrant or, as M.T. calls it, an "illegal." Her parents illegally came to the United States from Argentina when she was a baby. Her dad had big dreams of starting his own business and making it big in the U.S. and they will all eventually go back to Argentina. But over the years, it never happened and it left M.T.'s dad very bitter and abusive. So, M.T.'s home life wasn't a happy place.

School was her happy place--she's a straight-A student, the vice-president of the National Honor Society, she has a great best friend in Chelsea and was falling in love with her first boyfriend. But they were in their senior year and everyone was talking about college. Being an undocumented immigrant and her family poor, college wasn't an option for M.T. Seeing her friends' lives moving on to greater and grander things while she's stuck with no true options, she felt empty.

M.T. was an intriguing character. I felt for her and her situation but she wasn't entirely a sympathetic character either. She made some bad decisions. She's book smart but she also drinks at parties. She's outspoken but she's keeping a huge secret about her and her family. She sees her mother as a doormat and doesn't always appreciate all the things she did for M.T. or see her mom's inner strength. In her most darkest moment she contemplated suicide. She's imperfect and very human. There were times I didn't like her and there were times I wanted to give her a hug and I really liked that. I think all readers will see a bit of themselves in M.T.

The secondary characters were fleshed out as well. I love M.T.'s best friend Chelsea--she's the kind of friend you want in your corner. And M.T.'s love interest, Nate, was lovely. Everyone's first boyfriend should be like Nate. M.T. and Nate's relationship was bittersweet in the sweetest possible way.

After I finished reading The Secret Side of Empty it stayed with me for days. Such as fantastic debut novel by Maria Andreu! I cannot wait to read more by her. The entire story just felt so real and written so well that it sucks you in. The characters were imperfectly perfect and M.T.'s situation is real because there are millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States going through what she went through. But even if you're not an "illegal," you can still relate to the story because it is more than about being undocumented. The novel also touched on issues of physical abuse and suicide but, really it's more than about all the issues. The Secret Side of Empty is about growing up, making decisions, finding inner strength and finding yourself. You need this book in your life. Read it.
Profile Image for Amanda.
429 reviews109 followers
March 15, 2017
People always talk about fighting being the brave thing. But maybe the bravest thing is knowing when to stop. Knowing when you are beat. It is such a simple answer. It almost makes me happy.

The Secret Side of Empty is a touching story about M.T., an undocumented immigrant. (M.T. describes herself as an 'illegal immigrant'.) When entering her senior year of high school it is becoming clearer than ever for her how different her life is from her peers' lives. They have grand plans to head off to college, to travel, and what else they may choose. M.T. believes she does not have the same choices, that her life will come to a standstill. We follow her life through this period of uncertainty.

The author takes inspiration from her own life as an (formerly) undocumented immigrant, which is quite clear throughout the novel. There are moments that is clearly drawn from experience or watching it closely, such as M.T.'s life at home, especially the strained - abusive - relationship with her father. These moments and scenes were the best ones, due to their honest narration, painful as it was to read it. Overall, the portrayal of the mundane - if you can call it that - life of a family of undocumented immigrants; the struggles of finding jobs and make it financially, what risks to take and what to stay clear of.

The story is, however, quite uneven. The pacing and writing are uneven. For long periods of the book, nothing ever really happens, and we're stuck in M.T.'s head, whose voice is so dull. It's understandable though; as the story progresses, M.T. sinks into what can only be depression, but right from the start there's nothing exciting about her voice and narration, so the long stretches of time when nothing happens are downright boring despite the hard situation she's in. The writing suffers from a similar problem; one moment it flows and is a delight to read, and the next moment there are lines like these:
I feel electricity shooting from my hand to him, like those glass balls you put your hands on and the plasma makes shooting purple streaks to your hands. I can feel him, the cells of him.

Call it nitpicking if you'd like, but these two lines made me cringe for quite some time. I mean, 'I can feel the cells of him'? What does that even mean?

Would I recommend this book? Well, yes. Despite the uneven writing and vague plot, it's a decent story. It is especially a story that the YA genre needs to tell. The parts with M.T.'s family are wonderful and painful, heartbreaking and heartwarming. So yes, in the end, I'd recommend reading The Secret Side of Empty despite its flaws.
Profile Image for Gabs .
484 reviews74 followers
November 25, 2014
4.5 stars

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
So, short little story to kickstart this review. I have been going through a pretty bad reading slump lately. Every book I pick up seems to be mediocre, or just plain bad. And it kind of made me not want to read. Like ever. So, when I picked up this book, I was a bit nervous, because I had been really excited to read it, but what if it was another letdown?

It wasn't.

In fact, it was probably one of the best books I have read since I finished the Harry Potter series around a month ago. That's how good this book was.

This book deals with illegal immigration. You want to know how many books I have read that actually deal with that topic? One, besides The Secret Side of Empty. That kind of surprises me. You would think that illegal immigration would be a bit more represented in literature, especially today when it's such a hot topic. But it hasn't been, and that worked in this book's favor. The story made me look at illegal immigration in a whole new way; I had never given a ton of thought to it, but M.T.'s experiences really opened my eyes. It made the issue more "real" for me. Ironic, that a fictional book can do that, but it did.

M.T. was one of those characters that I just loved and loved and loved. No, we don't share a lot of the same life experiences, (except for the fact that she's kind of a nerd and I am too, haha) but there were still things--little things, but they were still there-- that I could relate to her on. I always love when an author can create someone with a completely different life experience than me and yet I can still, on some level, connect with the character. That's what happened with M.T.

The story, while it was primarily about life as an undocumented immigrant, also branched out into other problems that many teens face. This book was so realistic; I just loved it. It could make me really sad one moment and really happy the next. It made me giggle, and sometimes I teared up.

I would like to end this review saying that I agree with M.T.; the bad guys are usually more interesting characters than the good ones. Especially in the early Disney Princess movies.

Guys, what are you reading for? Stop reading my review and start reading the book!

Profile Image for Reading is my Escape.
851 reviews45 followers
March 10, 2017
Secret Side of Empty - Review  

“How do you explain to someone that you are so horrible and useless that your own father despises you? I am so ashamed. I don’t want them to know because I know they’ll figure out what that means about me. The dirty, ugly outcast I really am.”


“… seventeen ways to say Illegal: Broken, Alone, Not allowed, Wrong, Trapped, Shunned, Unwanted, Not good enough, Apart, A secret, On the wrong side, Misplaced, A threat, A mistake, Voiceless, Unheard, and Still here anyway."

M.T. is a high school senior in New Jersey, brought here by her parents from Argentina as a baby, and her family is undocumented. Her father is abusive and her mother is too timid to do anything about it. M.T. is ashamed to tell even her best friend about her secrets.
This was a tough book to read. I hated to see M.T. so alone and suffering. Then again, this book tackles a lot of issues. She is bright and wants to go to college, but she can't because she is undocumented. Her father abuses her. She contemplates suicide and tries drugs and alcohol.
This is the second book I read for my multicultural issue paper. Unlike Alma in the first book (Dream Things True), M.T. doesn't have a supportive community who shares her concerns about being illegal. M.T. has been in the United States her entire life. She and her brother don't know any other life. She faces the same issues of insecurity and worries about acceptance that any other teen faces, but she is also dealing with an abusive father and being illegal.
This is another good book for teens to read. I think they will enjoy the story and along the way, they may find a tolerance they didn't know they had. It is hard when all the media and news you see is telling you to think one thing or another. This book may help teens develop their own thoughts on the situation.
Profile Image for Laura Macy.
137 reviews4 followers
February 17, 2022
I really wish Goodreads would add 3.5 as a rating choice. This kept my interest. It also broached a topic that I'm not very familiar with. I like that. However, it's just not a 4. A few issues nagged at me as I read it. One flaw is the main character's lack of honesty with her childhood best friend. Clearly, M.T. is struggling; I expected more depth.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
62 reviews
July 25, 2021
This was such an incredible book!!!!! It was so interesting to read about a potential illegal immigrant experience, even if it was fictional, especially because it was based on Andreu’s personal experiences as such and truly seemed accurate, and it was so eye-opening and powerful. I like that in addition, M.T.’s story was intertwined with other situations, ones that made the book that much better, such as her abusive father, as well as her other interactions with him, even the little things like Quinn, Chelsea’s car accident, the thing with her, Siobhan, and Josh (which didn’t surprise me after the conversation that he’d had with her at the party), Chelsea’s parents getting divorced (not that that necessarily had anything to do with her, but still) and, of course, the not-so-small romance of hers with Nate. Her life continuously falling apart put me on edge that much more, from her grades slipping to being removed from NHS to Nate breaking up with her and everything in between. I was surprised that the police offers hadn’t looked further into who she was, but I guess naturally, they assume you’re an American citizen, at least in this case, especially with the fact that she didn’t necessarily look Argentinian. I found it particularly intriguing that there were so many instances of possible deportation, such as immigration raiding the restaurant where her father worked, her being found when she was hiding in the bushes cutting class, and when the police came into her house assuming that she was mentally unstable. I was also surprised that her dad actually had fake papers and that he was the only one who wasn’t deported. I found the evaluation interesting just in that Chelsea/Quinn told and got her to that point in the first place and that she was able to confide in the nurse safely, but then, again mental health professionals are only there to help. There’s a reason why nowadays, people want there to be specific mental health experts to help deescalate harmful situations involving people who are mentally ill as opposed to the police. Quinn’s story also got me a little bit in that it was very emotional and definitely relatable to M.T.. Even when M.T. vaguely told Chelsea about her situation, I could see how she could get it confused with the potential for suicide, and I was surprised that after, she actually admitted to having thought about suicide, but I’m glad that they made up without any need for an apology, all because of Chelsea’s tragic car accident. I also thought that it was really nice that Quinn did that for her own good after what had happened to her brother, even though Quinn hadn’t necessarily liked her back in elementary school, although that was a long time ago, so I’m not surprised that she did not really hold a grudge toward her anyway. They just hadn’t really become friends. When she told Chelsea, even though I knew she was trustworthy, I didn’t think she should’ve told her for some reason, and I felt the same way when she told her English class during her world view paper oral presentation, but I commend her because it took bravery and courage, and I actually appreciate that she revealed it to them. In general, I think that before, although Chelsea hounded her constantly about her going to college and getting her driver’s license, it was for good reason, and she was only trying to be a good friend to the furthest extent that she could since she didn’t know her situation at the time. And, as for her, Siobhan, and Josh, I kind of figured something like that might happen after the way he talked to her at the party as if he was flirting, and I always like a little romance in any YA book I read, so this and her and Nate’s relationship is something I really liked, though I appreciated that it wasn’t the focal point of the book, even though it definitely played a big part. And, I thought the car chase at the beginning was kind of adorable but was sad at how she broke up with him, but it’s what she thought had to be done, which makes sense, but just like Chelsea, considering how much he loved her, I don’t think he would’ve said anything either, and I think her secret would’ve been safe with him, but it was definitely interesting to see how that played out, especially being that after he broke up with her originally, he still took her to prom, and she even used it to try to win him back. Although Chelsea’s parents’ divorce didn’t really affect her personally, I think it was nice how they both had something to reveal, although hers was obviously much bigger and more risky. As for her father’s abuse, though, that was beyond something that I had ever read about and or experienced before. Simply him just wanting her to start to stop going to school, but especially the fact that he wanted the money she had earned from tutoring and her passport was insanely horrific. He also got angry with her mom sometimes, too, I mean, not to that point, but they just disagreed often because she was such a good mother wanting to really do what was best for M.T. and to allow her to make most of her own decisions, really make her feel like she was truly American, but it made so much sense because even though she wasn’t born there, she was brought at such a young age that she grew up there for most of her life, and it has become her home. She did not even remember Argentina or have any desire to go back. Back to her dad, he did not even seem to like that her mother started working for her school (which I thought was a nice arrangement, and I was surprised that the school administration knew about their family’s illegal status), even though it was caused by things that were his own fault, like not being able to pay for the lighting in their apartment or for the rest or, in this case, the tuition at her school. At first, I didn’t really understand why he was always so angry with her. I thought that maybe he was jealous or didn’t want her to have freedom or thought she was becoming too American, but at the end, I kind of understood, though I still didn’t like him after everything he did to her because really, who would? However, I definitely thought that the hitting was too much, but I guess that’s how abuse works, and even after they talked at the end, I agreed with her that she should’ve had him arrested that day, considering that he hurt her more than he ever had before and that he threatened to kill her, even though, like he said, and she kind of agreed, it may not have made the most sense in the long run because he still would have come back eventually, and like she said, and I agree, people like him don’t change. He also never hit his wife or José, which kind of surprised me, but then it kind of made sense to me, it shocked me even more how similar he thought he was to her when he was a teenager. I thought that her other interactions with her father were interesting as well, like her catching him at a coffee shop instead of at work. For some reason, I also expected that had her dad not done what he did to her towards the end, he would have forced her and the rest of the family move back to Argentina, or he would have at least gone back there by himself. He seemed to think her life would be over after high school, and even after she moved in with Chelsea, I was still expecting something similar, even them getting deported, which I’m surprised never happened at all, though they, or at least M.T. and her dad, came close a few times, which I liked because it added more intensity and suspense, though I was expecting incidents like that, so I think it was especially interesting that it ended on a positive note, but I think it was definitely nice that it did, too. And, really, now thinking about it, nothing could have happened to her much in those last moments being that Chelsea and her family then knew and could be trusted. One of the aspects that I found most interesting about this is that it makes you root for the “bad guys”. Being that M.T. and her family are undocumented, the right thing to do would be to have them deported back to Argentina, even though they deserve to be in America, since they don’t have papers. However, when you think about it, it is really her parents who deserve to be deported, so M.T. and Jose aren’t bad at all. M.T. was brought over when she was too young to have any control over her life, and Jose was born in the U.S., so he is actually a citizen. M.T. in particular is a true American just by how she looks and acts, and I think that her father, like she said, was wrong. Argentina is not her home. America is. And, I’m glad that DREAMERs was amended in the end to get her closer to legal citizenship. In terms of personality, though, her mother is really sweet and trying to do her best, while her father is, of course, demanding and abusive. All in all, this was a remarkable book, and I can’t wait to read more like it!!!!!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Zoe and the Edge.
674 reviews64 followers
July 21, 2014
I have no future

This book deals with a lot of emotions and the going can be really rough reading it. I teared up a number of times and my heart just ached for everything that M.T. goes through. It's a coming of age book so don't expect a heavy romance or a typical HEA.
M.T. is sensitive about being Spanish, about being poor, and about being illegal. All these things are her dirty secret. She has rich friends and classmates and has a lot of turmoil and anger regarding her poverty.

...it’s heavy in my hands, too, the way all charity feels, like it takes away some little thing in you that’s worth something. I hate when people give me things, but I especially hate how much I want them to.

Her best friend Chelsea wants M.T. to go through all of life's milestones with her – driving, college, etc. It's especially devastating for M.T. because she doesn't have a birth certificate or any documents so she can't go to college despite being exceptionally bright and hard working. She is constantly thinking about her illegal status and reminding herself that she doesn't belong. She starts off in the book with so much fight in her but as life goes on for her, she just stops caring.

It was sad seeing her bittersweet relationship with Nate.

I know I don’t deserve him, but it is delicious to know he hasn’t figured that out yet.

I wasn't sure what to make of Nate. Sometimes he's really just juvenile. He just really likes M.T. so he's so shy and clumsy. But I liked his quirky humour.

“Or a skip across the pond, eh?” he says in a terrible English accent.
“Why do all your accents sound Indian?”
“Just lucky, I guess,” he says.

I don't feel that Nate is really a big player in this. It's got “Highschool Romance” written all over it and to me, just seems like a representation of just another thing that M.T. cannot have.

All that needing someone ever does is give them the power to hurt you.

Eventually, M.T. seems to be self-destructive in the relationship. She gets so sensitive that the little things that Nate does seems like an insinuation or an insult. Her insecurity goes up like a blaring fog horn. Poor Nate is completely out of his depth.

Joey is M.T.'s little brother and he adores her.

“I’m sorry I woke you, little dude.”
“I wasn’t sleeping.”
With the little snores I heard, I beg to differ, but you never call Jose on having been asleep. As far as he’s concerned, he never sleeps.

M.T.'s parents have such a sad story. They are full of lost hopes and unfulfilled dreams. M.T. despises her parents. Her father for his abuse – her mother for being a bystander. The “Parentals” are a mess but M.T.'s treatment of them made me uncomfortable. I am definitely not judging her because she can't get past her history with her parents. She is critical and condescending of her non-English speaking mother. In M.T.'s eyes, her mother can never do anything right.

I'm a romance reader but it's books like these that remind me there's more to fiction than hearts and flowers.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
635 reviews29 followers
January 14, 2016
This is definitely a problem novel. Not only does the main character face the overwhelming and stifling secret of being an illegal immigrant, but she also suffers poverty in a wealthy New Jersey town, physical and emotional abuse from her angry father who longs to return to Argentina triumphant but who fears deportation so much that he has terrified M.T. about letting anyone know their status, their dilemma. Monserrat Thalia, Monse as a nickname, or when most of her teachers and classmates couldn't handle pronouncing her Argentian name, she went by M.T.

In senior year at the Catholic school, the one that didn't require a birth certificate for registration, her intelligence and academic ability no longer satisfy her because she knows she can't apply to a college, nor can she confess to wealthy, carefree best friend Chelsea that her inability to move forward legally past high school is causing her major depression and angst. She can never really relax, though she is distracted in a wonderful way by a first dizzying romance with local public school boy Nate. He, too, is wealthy and casually adorable, loving, and romantic; but M.T. can't relax in a relationship with him either. Everything is complicated by the constant danger of deportation, by the family that barely scrapes by, by the lack of belonging felt by this Anglo-looking girl born in South America. She remembers no home but the United States, but her homeland feels hostile, and she is approaching a breaking point.

This relevant story will be especially engaging for schools and libraries serving immigrants and Latinos. Even readers who don't share elements of M.T.'s background will be caught up in the constant low-level peril she faces. An easy recommendation.
March 10, 2014
The author is amazing and the book is inspiring!!!!!!! I couldn't put this book down once I picked it up. I found myself going through so many emotions as I moved through the chapters - laughter, tears, relief, uncertainty... the folks on my commute must've thought I was crazy. The emotion that I felt while reading this book is a testament to the author's ability to paint such a vibrant descriptive picture of M.T.'s life.

The "Secret Side of Empty" really opened my eyes to a side of immigration I never really thought about. I always thought I understood how hard it was for someone to leave their family behind in order to come to this country for a "better" life and the fears that went along with being undocumented. I never really understood the magnitude of that fear and uncertainty until I read this book. What surprised me even more is that I never really thought about the impact immigration has on our youth and the responsibility it adds to their plate at such a young age when they are trying to figure out who they are and who they will become.

I really admired M.T.'s strength and resilience. When she was both physically and mentally beat down and at a point where she thought she could no longer handle the blows that life had given her... she found her strength to move past all the hurt, all the uncertainty, all of the pain, all of the fear... and show the reader that even when you’re at your lowest… there’s an inner strength that will pull you through the darkest moments of your life. Just believe in yourself!

Great message for today's youth!

Profile Image for Liza Wiemer.
Author 5 books658 followers
December 8, 2014
Overall: Drawn upon the author's own experiences as a illegal immigrant, this novel will open the readers' eyes to the fear of not belonging and the constant threat of being deported. Shows the non-political, human side of a tough political issue. Other issues addressed are depression, suicidal thoughts, physical abuse. Easy, quick to read, emotionally charged.

Cover: Well done. Reflects the character's loneliness.

M.T.'s father had big dreams - to come to America and make his fortune. But as an illegal immigrant, it's impossible to find decent work. M.T. and her brother go to a Catholic school, the only place where she can get an education without a social security card etc. She goes from being a top student to hitting rock bottom as a series of events plunge here there.

With strong supporting characters in a boyfriend and best friend, M.T. has a lot to face: prejudice, poverty, depression and worst of all, the loss of hope as her friends make plans for college, she's doomed to a life of invisibility in a country that's always been her home, but doesn't recognize her as anything but an illegal.

I'm really glad I read this book. It brought to light an issue I knew very little about. Even though I have heard stories, the behind the scenes is not something that has been in the forefront of my mind.

Definitely enlightening. I highly recommend it. It would be perfect on high school reading lists.

Profile Image for Corinne.
Author 15 books719 followers
May 28, 2015
I planned to read a couple of chapters before bed. You can all guess how that turned out.

THE SECRET SIDE OF EMPTY is a fast, engrossing read. It seems to start off lightly, but quickly evolves into a weighty book dealing with issues of immigration, abuse, and depression. A lot has been said about that, and I agree with much of it. Particularly the M.T.'s growing apathy/frustration and suicidal feelings rang painfully true.

Something else that particularly stood out at me, though, were the seemingly casual details of M.T.'s life: I love that she gets high grades but still goes out and gets happily drunk; the one-off reference to accepting pills at a party, without it turning into a big deal; her tutoring business, and the clients paying no attention at all; M.T. flirting with and joking around with guys; all the cuteness, uncertainty, and drama of M.T.'s first serious relationship...

All of that made the book feel pleasantly grounded, like it could be taking place right down the street. It's exactly those detail that I felt added extra weight to the "issue book" topics.

In short, I really enjoyed this book, and I sincerely think teenagers will, too. Particularly recommended for use in classrooms, as there are a lot of topics to discuss and explore at length.
Profile Image for Chris Struyk-Bonn.
Author 4 books21 followers
November 3, 2016
The main character in "The Secret Side of Empty" is a true teen - snarky, full of contradictions, and burdened. Her life as an undocumented immigrant weighs upon her and her family so heavily that they are torn in two; her parents wishing to return to their home country, and MT wishing to stay in the US. And yet MT realizes that if she does stay, her future prospects are limited, and her chances of earning a college degree and making a solid life for herself in the US may not come to fruition unless she's able to gain citizenship. She isn't sure how to become a citizen and believes that no one will or can help her.

What I really appreciated about MT was how real she felt. She desperately wanted to be a normal teen with a boyfriend and college to look forward to, and I believe that so many teens can relate to her on this level. Her spiral into depression is also very real and will speak to the disenfranchised adolescents in our society, while her ability to move on and gain independence is inspirational. This was a great read and a revealing account of being an immigrant in our society today.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Shay.
310 reviews38 followers
January 14, 2017
The real name of this book should've been "The Secret Side of M.T." because that's what the character is called. It drove me nuts the entire book, having a main character called "M.T." I pretty much hate when book characters have acronyms instead of names. My brain automatically slows down at a period, so I'm reading smoothly and then -- BANG -- I stop. All because of the character's stupid name. Also, the fact that it pronounces out to "Empty" is too convenient.

This book was a slow read. The characters were rounded, but it felt like Nothing. Ever. Happened. (See what I did with the punctuation? Your brain had to slow down to read that.)

The book was cram packed with issues to make it an important social piece, but most of it lacked in sincerity. The suicide part felt pretty fake, and it was glossed over at the end. Then the whole Chelsea's cousin's boyfriend thing was like -- what? It was kind of chasing a rabbit.

I rate it 3 stars because I think that this type of story needs to be told more often. The fact that the author, Maria, actually experienced what it was like to be illegal makes the story credible. Yet, it's kind of bland.

Kind of really bland.
Profile Image for Crystal.
114 reviews5 followers
February 7, 2014
I was immeasurably lucky to receive an early review copy of this book and once I had this in my hands, I inhaled it in just a couple of days! (Its arrival on my doorstep just missed being taken on vacation, but as it turns out that may not have been a bad thing… I wouldn't have wanted to leave the hotel room!) Being a teenager is hard (I wouldn't relive those years if someone paid me!) and the author captures that so succinctly, the anxiety and grief is almost tangible. As a teen, I remember so clearly that the one redeeming quality was just how vast my future could be – college, work, family. As a strong, smart, resilient student, M.T.'s potential was limitless. But as an undocumented teen (yet raised almost entirely in the US), the reality of her options and opportunities were actually just the opposite. This book isn't political commentary on the immigration debate, but it gives a face and a name and a voice to someone who isn't usually included. A really well-crafted story, you will carry M.T.'s voice with you long after you close the book.
Profile Image for Sam.
2 reviews
January 25, 2014
This book was an unexpected treasure.I love the fact that it was so eassy to get emotionally invested into M.T.'s world. M.T. feels alone and hopeless and that is why she is such a relatable character because everyone has felt what she feels atleast once in their lifetime. I saw myself in her while reading this and felt for the well being of her and every other character in this book.

Maria E. Andreu(the author) cares about the readers well being also which makes me respect her so much. The evidence of this is in the authors note. she talks about how the reader should always have hope and she even leaves hotline and info for the reader to look into if they are going through the same serious situations that M.T. had to endure.

I love this book and will read it over and over agin.I also would like to add that I feel their is potential for a sequel. So I shall keep my fingers cross and hope for another!
984 reviews13 followers
December 29, 2015
Now this is what I was looking for -- a novel that can expose my teens to the experience of an undocumented immigrant in America in a nuanced and sympathetic way, with the surprise bonus of a truly sensitive depiction of domestic abuse and how it affects the whole family. M.T. might be one of the best-written teen characters I've read in a long time. Her voice is honest and funny and age-appropriate and fresh. Unfortunately (and the reason I didn't give the book 5 stars) some of the side characters don't receive the same treatment and end up almost stereotypical Bad Guys (see: the openly racist HS teacher who spews her political views in front of the class, the cop who refers to teenagers as "helpless little sheep," etc.). But overall, this is a great read and I will enthusiastically recommend it to teens.
Profile Image for Aleboat.
63 reviews2 followers
April 14, 2015
3,75, more so.

Okay, so, it's a good book. Not your typical girl-in-high-school-book. But still... I felt like it lacked depth. I think the author is trying to convey very difficult subjects, but still make it a story about a senior girl with senior girl struggles. Umm... I don't think I could care about some of the things M. cares if I was in her situation. Maybe it's a problem that I didn't relate to her.

The characters could not be more plain, imo. Chelsea is Chelsea, we don't really see an evolution in M.'s mom, her dad... well. Meh.

Maybe it's that I read it too quickly. I liked the story, and I enjoyed reading it, but I guess that the first two chapters promised a lot to me, and then it kind of disappointed.
Profile Image for Miriam.
28 reviews1 follower
July 31, 2014
- unique perspective of a Latina teen who is read as white in her affluent New Jersey town
- authentic voice
- original work of fiction
- great insight into life as a person who hasn't immigrated legally
- thoughtful examination of poverty next to peers who are very well off

- too many issues (domestic abuse, suicide, first love, college, AND the burden of living in the U.S. as an illegal alien)
- character transitions from straight A student to suicidal delinquent in a mere handful of weeks
- really hard to understand the parents or community that main character separates herself from
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Lorraine McCullough.
253 reviews14 followers
January 31, 2016
I loved that this revealed the human aspect behind immigration. Many times we hear such negativity associated with immigrants or undocumented "illegals." It is so negative that we almost forget these people are human. These are people with a story and a family and a heart. I love that this topic is being explored in YA because it is emotional and raw and scary, and we see these topics in other YA fiction books. I work in a school where many of our students face similar struggles with their families. It truly is sad because they have to grow up a lot faster then the should. I really enjoyed the book, and I cannot wait to recommend it to my students.
1 review
January 15, 2014
I was able to receive an advance copy of this amazing book. I didn't want to put it down because I truly connected with the characters and wanted to see what happened next. It deals with some tough issues in the most embracing way. The message screams "You are not alone". What a great message to so many young people out there. The tone of the book really tapped into "young adult" land. I found myself remembering those butterflies you get at that age.

Love, love, love!
1 review
February 16, 2014
I enjoyed this book. I can relate to the character M.T., growing up as a young immigrant in an new country, her struggles with trying to fit in, new experiences and lessons in friendships are wonderfully written and great book for mature teens & youthful adults. My daughter can't put the book down!!
Profile Image for Rachel Rickard Rebellino.
96 reviews7 followers
May 20, 2015
Immigration status remains a largely ignored topic in YA, and I wanted to like this book so much more than I did because it takes up that subject. The main character, M.T. was interesting; however, the plot felt as though it was going off in too many directions. Additionally, the relatively neat and tidy ending seemed inauthentic and too short (even though the book as a whole felt too long).
Profile Image for Joey.
130 reviews1 follower
August 19, 2019
I wanted this to be so much better than it was. A good YA book about illegal immigrants would be more than welcome. This mostly reads like a novelization of an after school special. It had a lot of potential, but lived up to very little if it.
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