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While around the world people are moving in great numbers and cultures everywhere are evolving, here in the U.S.—traditionally defined as a nation of immigrants—the current regime fiercely rejects transculturation as an existential threat. Thus migrant families face trauma and heartache, while safety and success remain elusive. Children are additionally burdened with their parents’ high expectations as they all face marginalization by the dominant culture. These coming-of-age novels feature immigrant children and/or the children of immigrants and resonate powerfully in this cruel age of family separation.
Fiebre Tropical. By Juliana Delgado Lopera. 2020. Feminist, $17.95 (9781936932757).
Feisty Francisca is a lonely teenager who rails against the fate that has brought her to the low-rent, ant-infested townhouses of Miami with an obsessed mother, annoying little sister, and demented grandmother; it’s a brutal comedown from her privileged life in Bogotá. She narrates the story of her desperation and her awakening in an engaging and lyrical voice.
The Idiot. By Elif Batuman. 2017. Penguin, $17 (9780143111061).
Selin, a strikingly tall Turkish American and a high-strung freshman at Harvard, takes a mishmash of classes and struggles to tutor adults trying to earn their GED. She becomes friends with cosmopolitan Serb Svetlana and obsesses over Hungarian mathematics major Ivan.
The Leavers. By Lisa Ko. 2017. Algonquin, $15.95 (9781616208042).
When Deming is 11, his Chinese American mother vanishes. Ten years later, aimless Deming has flunked out of college, always wondering about his mother. Where is she? Then, after all these years, he learns she has returned to China.
The Map of Salt and Stars. By Zeyn Joukhadar. 2018. Atria, $16.99 (9781501169038).
Nour has synesthesia, a condition that allows her to see all sensuous input as colors. After her father dies in New York City, her family returns to Syria, but, ravaged by war, their new home becomes unsafe, and they flee. Nour is inspired by the heroine of her father’s favorite twelfth-century story (which is told alternately with hers) to disguise herself as a man.
The Other Americans. By Laila Lalami. 2019. Vintage, $16 (9780525436034).
Who killed Driss Guerraoui? Was it an accident or was it murder, a brutal act against the Moroccan immigrant who might pose a threat to a neighborhood business in a small Mojave Desert town? This mystery brings together an intriguing set of characters, including Driss’ daughter, Nora, a struggling composer who returns home to the remnants of her family.
A Particular Kind of Black Man. By Tope Folarin. 2019. Simon & Schuster, $15.99 (9781501171833).
Tunde Akinola struggles with being the son of a Nigerian immigrant, his father’s challenges in navigating America with black skin, and his mother’s schizophrenia. Growing up in white Utah, Tunde and his younger brother are disoriented enough by their Blackness, but when mental illness makes their mother a stranger, Tunde is completely at sea.
Searching for Sylvie Lee. By Jean Kwok. 2019. Morrow, $26.99 (9780062834300).
Sisters Sylvie and Amy Lee have the same Chinese immigrant parents but different childhoods. Amy was raised in New York, Sylvie in the Netherlands. Sylvie goes back to the small Dutch village to care for Grandma, and after Grandma dies, the family assumes that Sylvie has returned to America. Instead, Amy is shocked to discover that Sylvie is missing.
Where We Come From. By Oscar Cásares. 2019. Knopf, $25.95 (9780525655435).
When 12-year-old Orly travels from Houston to the border town of Brownsville to visit his godmother, Nina, he discovers a secret: she is hiding Daniel, a Mexican boy his age who has crossed the border illegally, hoping to be reunited with his father in Chicago. Though wary of each other at first, the two boys bond. Adventure and danger ensue when Daniel ends up fleeing.
Your House Will Pay. By Steph Cha. 2019. Ecco, $26.99 (9780062868855).
When Grace Park’s mother is targeted in a drive-by shooting, Grace discovers the truth about her family’s pivotal role in the 1992 L.A. riots. Amid growing tension between South Central’s Asian shop owners and their African American customers, Grace’s mother shot and killed teen Ava Matthews. Now, Ava’s tragic death is back in the media spotlight.
Sara Martinez is manager of the Nathan Hale Library, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the founding coordinator for the Tulsa City-County Library’s Hispanic Resource Center.
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