I first came across this title while reading Mike Peto’s blog- My Generation of Polyglots. I found this book to be a perfect reading level for the majority of my heritage students while at the same time being full of raw and authentic stories of immigration likely to engage my students. The themes of identity, belonging, and language barriers are all very relevant for Latinos students. Having students read El libro de los americanos desconocidos is a great way to normalize these topics by bringing them to the forefront of discussion and discovery.
As soon as I began reading, the author peaked my interest because I couldn’t figure out why the narrator was changing so often. It took me a few chapters to figure out how the different characters were connected. Essentially, El libro de los americanos desconocidos tells multiple stories of several immigrant families that all live in the same apartment complex. Each chapter is told through the eyes of a different character, although there are several key characters that by showing up more often, become relatable to the reader and move the narrative along.
I LOVE this novel for teaching about point of view. The vantage points and the characters in this story are so real, you can’t help but try to empathize. They become…familiar to you, as though you’ve known someone like this character, or worked with someone like that character before. El libro de los americanos desconocidos highlights how unfair life can be and how we, as humans, cope with being thrown into unfortunate types of situations.
The book is captivating because as I mentioned, the perspective is always changing. The author also holds the reader’s interest by withholding large plot details you truly care to find out/figure out, all the while alluding to this very fact: there are key pieces of information the reader is still missing. With quirky, atypical characters spanning multiple generations and the viewpoints of the demographics that inhabit them, the author includes a unique perspective to be gained from all age groups. I came to relish that in reading this novel, I was forced to encounter multiple points of view, from multiple age groups, and my guess is, you would too!
This book is engaging, heart-wrenching, and genuine. Full disclosure, there are a few mildly sexual moments all contained within a few select chapters, but in my opinion, these brief scenarios do not come to the level where it would no longer be appropriate content for a high school student. I decided to go ahead and make it a part of this year’s curriculum, but having said that, I will also be having students read those aforementioned chapters silently. Simply in an attempt to mitigate varying levels of maturity from any potentially awkward “read-aloud” moments.
Basically, El libro de los americanos desconocidos is too good and far too beneficial, to not read with your heritage speakers class. Luckily I still had time to get copies ordered for my capital request, so we will be reading it for the first time this year. Additionally, if you read this novel with your students, you may want to save yourself the time by using my questions packet for this book. If you don’t have a class that is specifically for heritage students, this could be great independent assignment to differentiate for those heritage students you have mixed into a lower level class.