Summary: First-generation American LatinX Liliana Cruz does what it takes to fit in at her new nearly all-white school. But when family secrets spill out and racism at school ramps up, she must decide what she believes in and take a stand.
Fifteen-year-old Liliana is fine, thank you very much. It’s fine that her best friend, Jade, is all caught up in her new boyfriend lately. It’s fine that her inner-city high school is disorganized and underfunded. It’s fine that her father took off again—okay, maybe that isn’t fine, but what is Liliana supposed to do? She’s fifteen! Being left with her increasingly crazy mom? Fine. Her heathen little brothers? Fine, fine, fine. But it turns out Dad did leave one thing behind besides her crazy family. Before he left, he signed Liliana up for a school desegregation program called METCO. And she’s been accepted.
Being accepted into METCO, however, isn’t the same as being accepted at her new school. In her old school, Liliana—half-Guatemalan and half-Salvadorian—was part of the majority where almost everyone was a person of color. But now at Westburg, where almost everyone is white, the struggles of being a minority are unavoidable. It becomes clear that the only way to survive is to lighten up—whiten up. And if Dad signed her up for this program, he wouldn’t have just wanted Liliana to survive, he would have wanted her to thrive. So what if Liliana is now going by Lili? So what if she’s acting like she thinks she’s better than her old friends? It’s not a big deal. It’s fine.
But then she discovers the gutting truth about her father: He’s not on one of his side trips. And it isn’t that he doesn’t want to come home…he can’t. He’s undocumented and he’s been deported back to Guatemala. Soon, nothing is fine, and Lili has to make a choice: She’s done trying to make her white classmates and teachers feel more comfortable. Done changing who she is, denying her culture and where she came from. They want to know where she’s from, what she’s about? Liliana is ready to tell them.
Thoughts and Themes: First off thank you so much to The Heart of a Book Blogger for sending this book my way and putting it on my radar. This is a book that I had heard about briefly but that was it. I’m so glad that I read it because it is on my list of top books for 2020. That being said I have so much to say about this book and I don’t think this review will even begin to cover how seen this book made me feel.
There were so many moments in this book in which I connected to Liliana. This is a book that I so much wish was around when I was a high schooler feeling so out of place in my school for advanced studies program, or when I transferred to a predominantly white private college from community College. I felt so out of place amongst the others but I never had words to express why and how do you talk to your parents about it when they think this is to give you a better chance later.
Something this book made me think about was how my degree gave me opportunities but I’m in the same neighborhood. The bus ride that Liliana takes every morning reminds me of the ride I take daily to work and where I can see things change as if I’m visiting another world. A world that reminds me that I’m only a visitor there, my time in it is temporary and then I’ll go back to my reality.
I loved the portion in which the connection between the story and the title happen. It reminds me of what I want to respond sometimes when people ask where I’m from. It reminded me of what it feels like to say “um from here” , and then clarify “but my parents are from Mexico and El Salvador” and then to have people insist that it couldn’t be possible.
I love the complexity of this book and everything that it discusses. I like the different topics that are brought up such as: immigration, segregation, social economic class, racism, etc. I think Jennifer De Leon does a great job at introducing these topics throughout the story and having the characters learn through different interactions with each other.
I think that the book wrapped up great and I like how it points out that the racism at the school isn’t fixed but its a start. I thought that it was important that the book recognized one event wasn’t going to solve everything and things wouldn’t change overnight. I enjoyed how one event started a dialog and how that event started change not just for the school but in the way Liliana viewed her community and other METCO kids.
Characters: Throughout this book you get introduced to many different characters and I loved that each of them was unique. Each character had a role in the story and the interactions that they have with Liliana help in her development.
I liked that you got to see both people from her city, people in the METCO program, and people at her new school. It was great to see so many different characters with different life experiences.
I really enjoyed Liliana’s relationship with her mom, her family and her best friend, Jade. It was nice to see how her mom thought of Jade as family and the difference in how she treated Jade and Liliana’s white friends.
Writing Style: This story is told in first person, all in Liliana’s perspective. I thought it was great to see how she was experiencing everything rather than to have multiple views. It was nice to see how her view affected the story and how she changed through different events. I also thought it was good because it left little room for sympathy towards anyone else.
You can get this book at Eso Won Books or look for it at your local library.