Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From – by Jennifer De Leon, illustrated by Elena Garnu

 Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From – by Jennifer De Leon, illustrated by Elena Garnu, Atheneum (an imprint of Simon & Schuster), 9781534438248, 2020 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Realistic fiction

What did you like about the book?  Liliana Cruz lives in Boston with her parents and younger twin brothers. What she doesn’t know is that her parents are both undocumented and her beloved father is deported back to Guatemala just as Liliana gets a spot in a suburban METCO program. The book deals honestly and sensitively with her sense of dislocation as her hour-long bus ride each morning takes her far from home and into another world. Everything is cause for wonder and confusion and Lily’s (name change) code-switching will be either a revelation or achingly familiar for teen readers. Lily is a strong and interesting character who loves to write and re-creates her Hyde Park neighborhood as cardboard dioramas, complete with tiny signs in Spanish and concertina wire on top of the buildings. Her infatuation with an older white boy, her fear of losing her long-time BFF Jade, and her tentative new friendships with the other METCO students and her host Holly are all persuasively realistic. De Leon has a great eye for detail and verisimilitude: teachers have coffee-flavored breath, the METCO mentor is burdened with supporting the school’s diversity goals, and Lily shrinks inside when asked where she’s from or pressured to represent all LatinX people during class discussions.

Anything you didn’t like about it? I wish De Leon had included an author’s note with information about the METCO program and its history. Boston readers will hopefully not need that background, but for anyone else, will they understand that Liliana’s experience is based on reality?  

To whom would you recommend this book?  Students in grades 8 and up interested in realistic fiction, especially novels focused on school and issues of equality. If your readers are looking for something to read after I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter (2019) by Erika L. Sánchez, this would be a great next choice.

Who should buy this book? High schools and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? YA fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes. With its focus on Boston and its timely themes, this is one to recommend to teen readers!

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: December 2, 2020

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