Wednesday, August 19, 2015

#BookReview: MAKE YOUR HOME AMONG STRANGERS by Jennine Capó Crucet

“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”
― Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

Imagine trying to better yourself and getting slammed by your family for doing so. Lizet Ramirez is headed to college, and not just any college, but an elite private college in New York.  In order to go, she's leaving behind her older sister, baby nephew, depressed mother and close, yet distant, father. And every one of them feels betrayed by her decision to leave Miami.

Lizet's father has sold the family home without telling anyone, while her mother has become obsessed with an Elián González situation in her new neighborhood. Lizet's sister Leidy struggles to raise her baby on her salary as a washer girl at a local salon, and Omar, Lizet's boyfriend, worries that she'll forget him when she meets a college boy.  With all of that pressure, is it any wonder that Lizet secretly applied and enrolled in a school far away from the madness.  The problem is that even though she has geographically escaped, the mental burdens still weigh her down.  So even as she struggles to adjust to a world completely unlike one she came from, she's still trying to keep a toe in the world she left.

College can be difficult to navigate.  To come from a school where you're ranked highly academically, only to find yourself failing your first semester is not unusual.  Lizet's pride, embarrassment and resentment contribute to her struggle, and it's only when she's forced to admit that she needs help that she's able to turn things around.  As she adjusts to the academic aspects of college, socialization still seems to escape her.  The things that her white roommate and fellow co-eds know are things that she has to learn.  So you see her not just learning from books, but also playing cultural catch up so that when someone makes a comment about a movie or TV show and everyone else comments or laughs, she'll know why they're laughing.

Becoming more immersed in her new world changes the way that she sees her mother and realizes that it changes the way her mother sees her too.  Fighting to straddle the line between both worlds, Lizet begins to let important opportunities slip through her fingers, believing that her family must be saved from themselves and only she can do it.  It's a lot for a teenager to carry.

Crucet captures the first in college, child of immigrants, story so well. I was reminded of first in their family friends from college that left school for various reasons, but all related to being needed by their families to help carry the load at home.  I hate that Lizet has to go through the struggle, but I love that she gets her chance to shine.  She deserves it.

400 p.
Published: August 2015

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