I had a hard time finding a book from Panama. I started expanding my search and found Cristina Henriquez, who technically is American, so that is why I had not recognized her earlier during my search. This is however the closest I got to authentic Panama. Her father immigrated from Panama, and her mother is American. She spent her childhood summers in Panama and has a good grasp of the subject she is writing about. This is why I ended up reading The Book of Unknown Americans.
One of the classical stories from Latin America is that someone in the family moves to the United States of America. This is also the case in point. Alma Rivera is certain that the US will bring her family the fame and fortune they are after. In the case of her family, it is about getting her daughter into a good special needs school, and her hard-working husband a good job.
The reality is harsher than that, as we know. Moving to another country with a limited vocabulary, no friends, family, connections or money will not immediately, if ever, lead to the American dream. “I assumed that everything that would go wrong in our lives already had.”
It is a fast and easy read, but it tackles the important subject of trying to fit in, immigration, and in the end not really fitting in, which from what I have read and heard is not that uncommon. Henriquez is a master storyteller in a way that the characters really come alive. I can see them all vividly, even for some strange reason I can imagine what they would look like as cartoon figures.
My favourite thing about the book is how a girl has such fantastic parents that they are willing to do everything for her. They are willing to move to another country to give her the best possible life by getting her into a school that supports her needs. I am sure parents everywhere would want this, but it is amazing to read about someone doing this. For some reason I did not warm up to the other characters in the book, only the Rivera family. I highly recommend this book to people who are interested in the subject of immigration, especially Latin Americans moving to North America.