Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From

Right in the middle of Miss Deborah’s passing out female condoms during a presentation in the Making Proud Choices class at the high school Liliana Cruz attends, Vice-Principal Seaver pulls Liliana out for a conference in his office. There he informs her that she has finally been accepted into the METCO program that reassigns students in underperforming Boston-area schools to a school twenty miles west in Westburg–a program that is designed to provide students with more and better educational opportunities. Confused at first by what he is describing, Liliana then remembers the many times her father took her with him to February lotteries in an effort to get her enrolled in a charter school. Although she doesn’t want to leave her school and friends in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood that has been home since her childhood, she realizes that this is the culmination of her father’s dream, and she agrees to the transfer.

Adjusting to a mostly white, upper-class student body on an amazingly-equipped campus that offers more electives, clubs and career-oriented opportunities than she has ever imagined, Liliana switches her name to Lili and tries to assimilate into the campus milieu. The already-existing METCO clique at Westburg is not welcoming (though her student guide is), and Lili spends some lunch periods roaming the halls while eating her ham sandwiches until good-looking athletic star Dustin notices her and draws her under his spell. Soon they are spending as much time as possible together at school, even hiding out in the basement for makeout sessions.

With both parents undocumented immigrants, Lili tries to fly under the radar, speaking little in class, not sharing her writing talent, and keeping mum about her family problems. Her father–missing since summer–has been deported to Guatemala and efforts are being made to raise money to pay a coyote to get him back to Boston. Problems at school and home abound.

This is a story we’ve read before. The opening paragraphs about the female condoms really irritated me because it was a cheap grab for the reader’s attention, and I rolled my eyes yet again at the story of the new minority girl capturing the attention of a star stud on campus, but hey, I guess it works for a lot of YA writers. There are important themes presented and thoroughly discussed: finding one’s identity and being true to it, understanding diversity and learning how to incorporate that understanding into one’s actions, the power of political activism, the devastating consequences of exclusionary governmental policies, and the enduring importance of families.

I’d put it in a school library collection.

Categories: Anti-Semitism, Art, Asian Culture, Books We Recommend, Civil Rights, Controversial YA Topics, Depression, Diversity, Domestic Abuse in YA Fiction, Immigrants, LGBTQIA, Navigating through High School, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Parent Conflict, Peer Relationships, Political Activism, Racism, Social Disorders, Social Media, Sports Teams, Violence

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