Book Review: The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

Renee Boss

Traveling over 3,000 kilometers from their home in Pátzcuaro, Alma and Arturo leave behind a comfortable life where lunch often consists of bowls of cubed papaya and mango topped with coconut juice or cotija cheese in exchange for boxes of oatmeal and canned goods from a convenience store. Hope and optimism drive them forward.

The Rivera family treks to the United States in search of a school to provide special services for Maribel, recently injured in an accident. “I wanted her to have the full, long life that every parent promises his or her child by the simple act of bringing that child into the world.”

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez quickly captures your attention, drawing you into the compelling stories of the lives not only of the Rivera family but also of their neighbors in a run-down apartment building in Newark, Delaware. Told in alternating points of view (11 total), the stories of the lives of immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Paraguay, Panamá, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Costa Rica unfold throughout the novel. Henriquez weaves the stories together, conveying the experiences of individuals struggling in a new land but also of people caring about other people.

Whether we read fiction to escape life or read to learn about other cultures and ideas, we have an opportunity to listen to the stories of fellow humans through Henriquez’s work.


Renee believes we all have a story and advocates continuously for sharing & improving these stories. An educator and activist for eradicating inequities in our world, Renee believes access to quality education is a right for everyone. On the C&W blog Renee explores her creative side by offering thoughts on a variety of books from her book a week reading list.

Renee lives in Lexington, Kentucky with her husband and two sons.

Twitter: @renee_boss

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