Hello, I’m done with book #60 (!!!) as of this morning. I officially have 105 days to finish 40 more books and that actually feels very doable, I am encouraged. Anyway, the book I just finished was incredible. It was a young adult novel called The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu.
I really loved everything about this book, from the cover to the content. This is Andreu’s first novel, which makes it even more impressive. But the book was really effective in intertwining really important immigration issues with the difficulties of growing up as an “outsider” in America.
The main character and narrator is a 17-year-old girl living in America illegally from Argentina. Her name is Monsserat Thalia, but she goes by M.T. in order to blend in. M.T. was such a great narrator/Andreu was so great at writing from this perspective.
I read in the author’s note that Andreu had a similar young-adulthood as an illegal immigrant, so the book had some autobiographical elements. That would explain her ability to so effectively transport the reader into the mind of this perpetually uncomfortable, worried teenager. Aside from the constant fear of being deported, M.T. also struggles with domestic abuse from her frustrated, unhappy father.
Citizenship status aside, though, I loved M.T. as a narrator because she’s such a teenage girl. She feels animosity toward her mother without knowing why exactly, and she’s so intent on figuring out the future that she manages to nearly destroy several of her longstanding relationships and friendships.
Being a kid is hard, and this book reminded me of that. And on top of the typical kid struggles, M.T. has to deal with the constant guilt-trips from her father about preferring America to Argentina, her “real home.” She attends an all-girls Catholic school with a lot of wealthy girls while she lives in small, low-income housing and survives on lentils, contributing heavily to her feelings of not fitting in.
It was just a really well-told story, and I think it’s an important topic – especially now, as immigrant-ignorance permeates the news (coughTrumpcoughidiot). It also makes a great case for young adult books. This genre is really interesting to me, because it seems to be a source of shame to be a certain age and still reading YA novels, which I think is ridiculous.
It’s such an important genre, and I think a lot of people can fall in love with reading through an introduction to a YA book or two. If I’m not trying to impress someone with my extensive worldliness, I won’t hesitate to tell them that my all-time favorite book is young adult, and one of my all-time favorite series is a YA one. And then, obviously, there’s Harry Potter.
Anyway, not that the genre needs to be defended, but should anyone question the validity of young adult novels I’m ready to point them to this book. It’s a bold and beautiful account of the conflicted feelings, constant hesitation, deeply-felt guilt, and terrible outside-looking-in feeling that I imaging many illegal immigrants must feel much of the time.
Everyone buy it and let’s all cross our fingers that Maria E. Andreu has more novels in the works. ◊
Talented. Driven. Patriotic. The words echo in my chest. I try them on, wondering if they could apply to me. I decide they do.”
— page 328 -329