Daniel Simmons's Reviews > The Book of Unknown Americans

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
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it was ok

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 the author's mission doesn't make me a fan of her writing.
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Reading Progress

June 25, 2014 – Shelved
June 25, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
July 5, 2014 – Started Reading
July 6, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-22 of 22 (22 new)

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judy I absolutely agree. There are many more eloquent authors offering deep insight into the experience of immigrants. The topic alone does not justify praise of the writing. Thank you for your honesty.


Daniel Simmons Thanks for your comment. I wonder what authors or novels you would recommend as better (or at least more eloquent) documenters of the immigrant experience?


Mindy Daniel wrote: "Thanks for your comment. I wonder what authors or novels you would recommend as better (or at least more eloquent) documenters of the immigrant experience?"

Daniel, try Junot Diaz.


Daniel Simmons Mindy, thanks -- I've read his short story collection and both of his novels. All of them were outstanding.


Jess M. I felt the same way reading this book.


Bette I agree as well. I was reading this as a part of a group here on Goodreads. I felt kinda guilty because I wanted to like this book.


message 7: by Brie (new)

Brie I kept wondering if it was written for children? Thank you for putting my impression into words.


Cassy I liked your review before I read this book. I like it even more after reading the book. You are spot on!


Daniel Simmons Jess wrote: "I felt the same way reading this book."

Right? I look forward to future offerings from this author, though.


Daniel Simmons Brie wrote: "I kept wondering if it was written for children? Thank you for putting my impression into words."

Perhaps it would be better as a YA-targeted novel; I hadn't thought of that, but I could see it fitting comfortably in, say, a junior high-school English lit class curriculum.


Daniel Simmons Bette wrote: "I agree as well. I was reading this as a part of a group here on Goodreads. I felt kinda guilty because I wanted to like this book."

I know the feeling -- I also had high hopes for this book, and I hate to bad-mouth it given the important subject matter, but there just wasn't much "there" there.


Daniel Simmons Cassy wrote: "I liked your review before I read this book. I like it even more after reading the book. You are spot on!"

Thanks for the solidarity vote, Cassy!


Sharon Gray I wrote my review and then read yours ~ you put it much better than I did. It is spot on. I felt the "preachiness" of the book actually detracted from her message.


Daniel Simmons Sharon wrote: "I wrote my review and then read yours ~ you put it much better than I did. It is spot on. I felt the "preachiness" of the book actually detracted from her message."

Yes, as per the "show me, don't tell me" principle! Still, I hope that Ms. Henriquez follows up with a second, more worthy novel.


message 15: by Mary (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mary It is interesting how one can read from different vantage points and see different things. You made valid points about what you experienced as a reader. My experience with this book was different because I saw the book as being way more about the adults than about the two teens. I think the characters of mothers and fathers and the other adults in the building were well-developed.


Daniel Simmons Mary wrote: "It is interesting how one can read from different vantage points and see different things. You made valid points about what you experienced as a reader. My experience with this book was different b..."

Thanks for your comment. Fair enough -- that's the great thing about books and the different perspectives they draw out!

It's now been more than a year since I read this book, so I don't remember it any more in detail, but I do remember actually being even less convinced by the adult characters than I was by the young adult characters (whose overdramatic pronouncements I could at least ascribe to their angst-ridden wannabe-existential teenagerdom). Their characters and dialogue just didn't ring true to me.

In counterpoint, just yesterday I finished reading Edwidge Danticat's book "Krik! Krak!", which chronicles in some of its stories the Haitian immigrant experience in the U.S., and I marveled at the economy and nuance of her character descriptions in a way that I didn't with "The Book of Unknown Americans."


Sharon Gray I too found the adult characters even less developed than the teens. Alma was probably the character that had the most of her "story" told (from her perspective) and yet I found her reasons for making her choices far from convincing. Her husband's story was never told from his point of view.

I'll have to look for "Krik! Krak!" ~ sounds great!


Cristina Montanez Daniel: unfortunately in this modern world we live in, people especially teens do not speak eloquently as you think they should. If you want reality read some Twitter feeds and text messages. This book is literature. It has a message to tell. If it seems unrealistic to you then don't read any of David Green's novels, his teenage characters will also seem too fantastical for you. Stay away from Shakespeare. True there are better writers out there, but Cristina Henriquez put a voice to people who really are unheard in this country. She wrote a beautiful novel about beautiful people who came to this country for many reasons none of which was to be an illegal alien.


Erica Bernal I know this was posted a year ago; but I do believe the language that they speak in is getting lost in translation. I read it as she is really speaking in Spanish and the reader is reading the translated version of what is said (especially since alma and Arturo and presumably maribel never touch on actually mastering English aside from Alma's few brushes with English language.) as a Spanish speaker; there are many sayings that if you translate them verbatim; don't really make sense or are way to simplified. It's the beauty of the language in how it is said. Also; maribel is still technically brain damaged. Maybe she is "better" but she will never be the same
So I also believe that her speaking is of someone a little more simple and juvenile. I am not saying the book was amazing I was certainly a little put off by how simple Alma's thinking is, but as for maribel that's how I took it


message 20: by Serafina (new) - added it

Serafina I understand the sentiment. However as someone Latin-American I can say that the characters aren't ingenuine; they're idealistic. And believe it or not, sentimentality and formality in language like in the example you gave are much more common in Spanish-speaking cultures than it is at least in America.


message 21: by Celia (new) - added it

Celia I haven't read the book yet but I think it is a young adult book. I think one of the previous commenters meant John Green when they said David Green. If you check out his books they are definitely written that way: dramatic dialogue and simpler themes. I think it's what the genre calls for. I've only read one John Green book and I was rolling my eyes most of the time. That doesn't mean I'm not going to read this book though! I still think it looks good.


Dinara Ye Unfortunately, I have to agree with this review. The book was disappointing. I am surprised it received such high ratings from Celeste Ng and Roxanne Gay


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