Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy. Apr. 2023. 336p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781665904162.
Gr 9 Up–De Leon (Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From) tackles stereotypes and thoroughly unravels reductive narratives about immigration in this excellent work. Maya has hopes and dreams of a career in fashion design, winning a school contest, and living her best life in Guatemala City. She attends a well-funded 21st-century private school, has deep generational ties to her community, and a best friend she loves like a sister. This is also a love letter to Guatemala, rich in volcanoes, ancestral villages, textiles, cuisine, fútbol, and the Xetulul theme park. But when Maya witnesses a murder, she and her mother must flee their beloved country to save their lives, and the rest of the novel becomes a fast-paced race to the U.S. border. They are captured as they cross the Rio Grande, and the novel shifts from the suspense genre into a documentary of the detailed horror of the detention and dehumanization experienced by migrants from the global south. The asylum process reduces Maya’s choices to staying in the U.S. and “making something new from the wreckage” of her life, or going back to Guatemala to reunite with her deported mother. This is an important work that provides readers a nuanced look at a community that is often spoken of with disparaging clichés: illegal, poor, illiterate. De Leon’s novel offers readers an access point to a more complete picture of asylum seekers and a thoughtful reflection for those who have lived through a similar experience.
VERDICT Seamlessly woven elements result in a poignant, coming-of-age novel. A standout title.

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