It’s time again for another round of recent reads! This time I’ll be talking about an adult contemporary fiction about immigration, a YA contemporary with a thriller twist, and the conclusion to my new favorite series. If you want to see more, you can find my last “Recent Reads” here.
Infinite Country by Patricia Engel
Release Date: March 2, 2021
Genre: Adult contemporary/literary fiction
Trigger warnings include: animal abuse, racism, violence, mention of forced sterilization, rape, loss of a loved one
For readers of Valeria Luiselli and Edwidge Danticat, an urgent and lyrical novel about a Colombian family fractured by deportation, offering an intimate perspective on an experience that so many have endured—and are enduring right now.
At the dawn of the new millennium, Colombia is a country devastated by half a century of violence. Elena and Mauro are teenagers when they meet, their blooming love an antidote to the mounting brutality of life in Bogotá. Once their first daughter is born, and facing grim economic prospects, they set their sights on the United States.
They travel to Houston and send wages back to Elena’s mother, all the while weighing whether to risk overstaying their tourist visas or to return to Bogotá. As their family expands, and they move again and again, their decision to ignore their exit dates plunges the young family into the precariousness of undocumented status, the threat of discovery menacing a life already strained. When Mauro is deported, Elena, now tasked with caring for their three small children, makes a difficult choice that will ease her burdens but splinter the family even further.
Award-winning, internationally acclaimed author Patricia Engel, herself the daughter of Colombian immigrants and a dual citizen, gives voice to Mauro and Elena, as well as their children, Karina, Nando, and Talia—each one navigating a divided existence, weighing their allegiance to the past, the future, to one another, and to themselves. Rich with Bogotá urban life, steeped in Andean myth, and tense with the daily reality for the undocumented in America, Infinite Country is the story of two countries and one mixed-status family—for whom every triumph is stitched with regret and every dream pursued bears the weight of a dream deferred.
“She told them her mother was abroad and sent her back to Colombia when she was a baby. But this particular family condition was so common it couldn’t possibly be considered trauma.”
While this book is less than 200 pages, it tells a powerful and important story that I found myself wanting to take my time with and that I think will stick with me for a long time. I was most struck by Engel’s writing. She sometimes is very straightforward and sometimes takes a few pages to give readers some folklore or legends that paint a picture of Colombia and its people and that adds greater significance and context to what the characters are experiencing. There are certainly some heartbreaking moments with this family and the fact that Engel is able to show the complicated dynamics of a family separated in so few pages is amazing. Something that my eyes were especially opened to through this story is the ways so many programs and opportunities in the US set up for immigrants can pose such a risk to those same people and their families. By trying to enter that system, they are bringing attention to themselves and those around them and that increases the risk of splitting up their families even more. I can’t say much else since this book is so short but I do want to end this with some recommendations of books I thought of while reading this one: Native Country of the Heart by Cherrie Moraga & Create Dangerously by Edwidge Danticat. These recommendations are partly to do with themes but mostly to do with the writing style.
One of the Good Ones by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite
Release Date: January 5, 2021
Genre: YA Contemporary, Thriller
The Hate U Give meets Get Out in this honest and powerful exploration of prejudice in the stunning novel from sister-writer duo Maika and Maritza Moulite, authors of Dear Haiti, Love Alaine.
ISN’T BEING HUMAN ENOUGH?
When teen social activist and history buff Kezi Smith is killed under mysterious circumstances after attending a social justice rally, her devastated sister Happi and their family are left reeling in the aftermath. As Kezi becomes another immortalized victim in the fight against police brutality, Happi begins to question the idealized way her sister is remembered. Perfect. Angelic.
One of the good ones.
Even as the phrase rings wrong in her mind—why are only certain people deemed worthy to be missed?—Happi and her sister Genny embark on a journey to honor Kezi in their own way, using an heirloom copy of The Negro Motorist Green Book as their guide. But there’s a twist to Kezi’s story that no one could’ve ever expected—one that will change everything all over again.
“I know that existing as a human on this Earth should be enough to deserve respect and justice. But it isn’t. Instead, we focus on those who we deem worthy, for whom we allow ourselves to feel the weight of their loss.”
*I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.*
The only thing I knew about this book before going in was that it was pitched as “The Hate U Give meets Get Out” and that was enough to get me excited. I dropped everything as soon as I got a notification from Netgalley and found a compelling story and characters I really loved but aspects of the structure and writing didn’t work as much for me. I really liked the set-up of this story. Getting to know all the key players and their pasts that would become important later caught my attention and I especially enjoyed getting to know Kezi and her girlfriend. I also liked the multi-generational aspect of the story. You get to learn about Kezi’s family history and what sparked the road trip in the first place. There is also a mystery element that REALLY picks up in part three and was especially gripping. The ending provided some powerful commentary on how the media portrays Black people when they are killed and how they decide who is worth mourning – who is “one of the good ones” – and the impacts of those decisions.
The main aspect of the book that brought down my reading experience was down to transitions between scenes. Sometimes scenes would end and there was not really an indication we were moving to something else apart from a paragraph break and sometimes it took me a bit to realize what was happening. I would quickly get back on track but there were a few times when I felt like a couple of sentences might have been missing. I also felt like I wanted a little more from the ending. The peak of the action was very late in the story and then it was just over.
Overall, I still recommend this story as it deals with important themes of police brutality, who we decide is worth mourning, and what can happen when racism is passed down through generations. Even though I had some issues with the writing, I think the positives definitely outweigh any of that.
The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin
Release Date: August 15, 2017
Genre: Adult fantasy
“But for a society build on exploitation, there is no greater threat than having no one left to oppress.”
About halfway through this book, I knew that this would be my favorite series and that I would do a journal spread commemorating it. The stakes were so high and I loved and cared about all of these characters and while a ton of world-building isn’t exactly something that interests me, the way Jemisin does it kept me hooked until the end. I have been on a journey trying to learn what I like in fantasy and am so thankful for this series existing and showing me what I enjoy. What I really appreciate about this series are all of the real-world themes Jemisin covers in this fantasy world. This story is very much about surviving but it also contains discussions of environmentalism, blood relations vs. found family, prejudices, and slavery and exploitation. I was constantly thinking about current events and because of the intersection between environmentalism and oppression, I started thinking about how climate change disproportionately impacts communities of color and there are so many other topics to think about in relation to this story and that is something that usually comes along with books that I consider to be favorites. I don’t think I’ll stop talking about this series for a while and I definitely recommend it if you’re into adult fantasy and want something a bit different and complex to try. I’ll certainly be reading Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy in the future.
What have you been reading recently? Have you read any of these? Are you interested in any of them? Come chat with me!