Book Review: This Is What America Looks Like by Ilhan Omar

Book: This Is What America Looks Like: My Journey From Refugee To Congresswoman by Ilhan Omar

Published May 2020 by Dey Street Books|288 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction/Memoir

Ilhan Omar was eight years old when war broke out in Somalia. The youngest of seven children, her mother had died while Ilhan was still a little girl. She was being raised by her father and grandfather when armed gunmen attacked their compound and the family decided to flee Mogadishu. They ended up in a refugee camp in Kenya, where Ilhan says she came to understand the deep meaning of hunger and death. Four years later, after a painstaking vetting process, her family achieved refugee status and arrived in Arlington, Virginia.

Aged twelve, penniless, speaking only Somali and having missed out on years of schooling, Ilhan rolled up her sleeves, determined to find her American dream. Faced with the many challenges of being a Muslim refugee, she questioned stereotypes and built bridges with her classmates and in her community. In under two decades she became a grassroots organizer, graduated from college and was elected to congress with a record-breaking turnout by the people of Minnesota—ready to keep pushing boundaries and restore moral clarity as she sees it in Washington D.C

I LOVED This is what America Looks Like!  This was a great read, and I’m really glad I picked it up.

I loved reading Omar’s story.  I didn’t know much about her, other than she’s a Congresswoman out of Minnesota.  But I learned a lot about her from hearing her story.  We get a glimpse of her life as a refugee, how she came to the U.S. and how she ended up running for Congress.  I really appreciate how important it is to represent her district, and we very much see that she’s dedicated to doing a great job and fighting for both her district and all Americans.  She wants to make this country a better place, and she had a lot of challenges and obstacles along the way.

We see how close she is to her father, and how important he was in her life.  It was clear that he wanted her to do well, and was supportive of her and her interests.  I also liked learning about her family, and the different relationships she had with them.

Honestly, I wanted this book to be longer!  I wanted to read more about her experiences, and this was a book that’s easy to read in one sitting.  I took my time with it because I wanted to enjoy her story, but I’m surprised I didn’t breeze right through it.  It’s very readable, and doesn’t get bogged down in detail.  It’s simple and straightforward, but it’s absolutely worth reading.

I am glad that we have people like Omar here- she cares about this country, and the people who live in it.  I’ve said something like this already, but she really does work for the people, and she has a strong sense of self and her place in the world.  She wants to make this country better, and though there are people who don’t want her here and disagree with her politics, she continues to stand up for what she believes in, and fights for justice for everyone, not just some people.

5 stars.  This book is a must-read, and I’m glad I did.  Omar is an amazing person, and her district is really lucky to have her representing them!

Book Review: Just Like Us: The True Story Of Four Mexican Girls Coming Of Age In America by Helen Thorpe

Book: Just Like Us: The True Story Of Four Mexican Girls Coming Of Age In America by Helen Thorpe

Published September 2009 by Scribner|400 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction

Written by a gifted journalist, a powerful account of four young Mexican women coming of age in Denver—two of whom have legal documentation, two of whom who don’t— and the challenges they face as they attempt to pursue the American dream.

Just  Like  Us takes readers on a compelling journey with four  young  Mexican-American  women  who  have  lived in  the  U.S.  since  childhood.  Exploring  not  only  the women’s personal life stories, this book also delves deep into an American subculture and the complex and controversial politics that surround the issue of immigration.

The story opens on the eve of the girls’ senior prom in Denver, Colorado. All four of the girls have grown up in the United States, all four want to make it into college and succeed, but only two have immigration papers. Meanwhile, after a Mexican immigrant shoots and kills a local police officer, Colorado becomes the place where national argu- ments over immigration rage most fiercely. As the girls’ lives play out against this backdrop of intense debate over whether they have any right to live here, readers will gain remarkable insight into both the power players and the most vulnerable members of society as they grapple with understanding one of the most complicated social issues of our times.

Moving, timely, and passionately told, Just Like Us is a riveting story about girlhood, friendship, identity, and survival.

I really liked Just Like Us.  We see 4 girls who are very much affected by immigration policies- 2 are legal citizens, and 2 are undocumented.  It highlights how hard it is to become a citizen, and how hard it is to come here legally. It doesn’t go into a lot of depth the entire process, but you get a glimpse of what it’s like to be undocumented, and how difficult it is to become a citizen.

All 4 girls were in limbo, and they all have one foot in each world.  I felt for them, because they never asked to come. They worked so hard in school, because they wanted better opportunities and didn’t want to end up being stuck, like their parents, even though it was a possibility.

There is a lot how to become a legal citizen that I don’t know, and it’s because I never had to think about it.  I doubt I’d be willing to do some of the jobs they (and their parents) took just to get by.

I also felt like the author was very sympathetic towards the girls.  It’s hard not to be, and she spent a lot of time with them, so it makes sense.  She does try to show all of the different sides of immigration, but it did feel uneven to a certain extent.  Almost everything relating to those opposing illegal immigration felt very technical and not emotional.  It did get bogged down in the legislative stuff.  It was a huge force for all four girls, and I understand why it comes up, but part of me wishes the book had completely focused on the girls.

They had a lot of opportunities, and there is no doubt these girls are hardworking and intelligent and deserve every bit of success they get.  But I wonder if maybe some of the opportunities the girls had are because of Thorpe’s involvement in their lives.

It was hard to get into at first, because it wasn’t linear at first, but once everything is set up, it settles is, and has a definite timeline.  Not only that, but once they get to college, we only see 3 of the girls, since one of them went off to college in California, and we don’t hear much about her once they all finish high school.  I get they were all best friends, and that she went her own way after high school, but I almost wish we didn’t learn more about her, because we got almost no updates after high school.

It did give a face to what it’s like to be an illegal immigrant, and that it’s so much more complicated than I thought it would be.  Their families were so willing to do whatever they could to survive, and the girls in particular wanted to change the world.  Their story made it personal.

3 stars.  I liked it, but I wish we saw all 4 girls through college, instead of 3 of them.  I do wonder how they’re doing, and how much their lives have changed since the book came out.

Book Review: City Of Saints And Thieves by Natalie Anderson

Book: City Of Saints & Thieves by Natalie Anderson

Published January 2017 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books For Young Readers|401 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

The more you see, the less you know.

In the shadows of Sangui City, there lives a girl who does not exist.

Tina and her mother first arrived in Kenya as refugees from Congo desperately searching for a better life. Trading the peril of their besieged village for the busy metropolis of Sangui, they can barely believe their luck when Tina’s mother finds work as a maid for the Greyhills, one of the city’s most illustrious families. But there’s a dark secret lurking behind the family’s immense fortune, and when Tina discovers her mother shot dead in Mr. Greyhill’s private study, she knows he pulled the trigger.

With revenge on her mind, Tina spends the next four years surviving the streets on her own, working as a master thief with the Goondas, Sangui City’s local gang. It’s a job with the Goondas that finally brings Tina back to the Greyhill estate, giving a long-awaited chance for vengeance. But once Tina returns to the lavish home, she’s overcome by memories of her painful past, and the girl who does not exist is caught red-handed, setting into motion a breathless and dangerous cascade of events that will expose not only the truth behind who killed Tina’s mother, but even more harrowing secrets from Tina’s past that will change everything.

I thought City Of Saints & Thieves was a great book!  This is most definitely a book about getting revenge on the person who killed Tina’s mother, and I thought it went in a really interesting direction.

At first, Tina very much wants revenge on the man she believes killed her mother.  When she returns to the place where her mother died, a series of events leads her to realize that she didn’t know for sure what happened the night her mother died.  What really happened that night ends up being far different than what Tina thought happened, and she uncovers a lot of family history.  Everything from who her father is to why they left Congo.

What happened isn’t the whole story, and I liked how we uncovered what really happened that night.  I think it would be interesting to go back and re-read City Of Saints & Thieves knowing what I know now.

I liked the rules of being a thief that we see at the beginning of some of the chapters.  It added something special to the book, and I think it gives a peek into Tina’s life as part of the Goondas.

It did take a little while to get into the book, and I thought the pacing was a little uneven.  It was fast-paced, and then really slow.  I still wanted to know what happened next, but I felt like I had to wade through some parts of the book.

I also loved the setting!  I’ve read a few books set in Africa, but I don’t think I’ve read any set in Congo or Kenya before.  There is a sense of danger, and I felt like you really understand why Tina and her mother left Congo for Kenya.  You see the danger they’re in, and why people might seek a better life somewhere else.  You also see why people stay, even when it might be easier for them to leave.

It turns out the author has worked with refugees in Africa, and that really comes through.  It felt very well researched and I felt like there was a lot of attention to detail.

4 stars.  It was a little slow at times and it was hard to get into at first, but overall, I really liked it.

Audio Book Review: Joyride by Anna Banks

Joyride CoverBook: Joyride by Anna Banks, narrated by Kyla Garcia and Andrew Eiden

Published June 2015 by Blackstone Audio|8 hours, 41 minutes

Where I Got It: I got the audio book via audible.com

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

Blog Graphic-What It's About

A popular guy and a shy girl with a secret become unlikely accomplices for midnight pranking, and are soon in over their heads—with the law and with each other—in this sparkling standalone from NYT-bestselling author Anna Banks.

It’s been years since Carly Vega’s parents were deported. She lives with her brother, studies hard, and works at a convenience store to contribute to getting her parents back from Mexico.

Arden Moss used to be the star quarterback at school. He dated popular blondes and had fun with his older sister, Amber. But now Amber’s dead, and Arden blames his father, the town sheriff who wouldn’t acknowledge Amber’s mental illness. Arden refuses to fulfill whatever his conservative father expects.

All Carly wants is to stay under the radar and do what her family expects. All Arden wants is to NOT do what his family expects. When their paths cross, they each realize they’ve been living according to others. Carly and Arden’s journey toward their true hearts—and one another—is funny, romantic, and sometimes harsh.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

Joyride was so heartbreaking for me- and yet there were times when a particular character made me so angry!  It’s definitely worth reading.

I really felt for Carly, and she and her brother worked so hard to bring their parents back to the U.S. so they could be a family.  I can’t begin to image what it’s like to have your parents deported, or what it’s like to have to work two jobs while still in high school to save enough money to even try to bring them back.  Her story is very different from Arden’s, and I have to say, I spent quite a bit of the book wanting to get back to Carly’s chapters. I liked her so much more than Arden, who, for a lot of the book, came across as entitled, spoiled and unaware of the struggles other people have to go through.

I get why Arden’s story is so important in telling Carly’s, and Carly’s definitely changed Arden. Knowing her, and her story, did make him more aware of the world around him.  There is a moment that really changed Arden, and while I wish it didn’t take that to make him realize things, I can sort of understand where he’s coming from.  He’s very privileged, and doesn’t realize his privilege (also, he’s a teenage boy, so I’d be surprised if it was something he thought about or realized) until that one moment.

I did feel for Arden, having to grow up with the dad he did, but in comparison to what Carly was dealing with, his problems seemed to pale in comparison.

I loved that Carly wanted to do so well in school so she could have a bright future, and I don’t blame her for wanting to have a life.  I totally understand why she would tell her brother that it’s not her responsibility to help bring her parents over, and also why she’d feel guilty for feeling that way.  And that she’d help them become legal citizens once they got to the U.S.

I love how family is so important to her, even with how frustrating family can be sometimes.

I have to say, the sheriff is despicable.  Utterly despicable.  Never have I hated a character more than I hated him. Blackmailing Carly into doing what he wanted in exchange for not deporting her parents, and the way he talked to her…I really wanted to yell at him.  I’m actually sort of amazed at how awesome Arden is, especially when he sticks up for Carly, and pretty much does whatever his wants in order to protect Carly and ensure that she’s reunited with her parents.  The dad definitely got what he deserved- and he deserves so much worse than what he got.  Anyway, I am glad that Arden is awesome…although, I do wonder if his dad did rub off on him in some way.  There is a point where he meets Julio (Carly’s brother) and assumes he doesn’t speak English, and I really can’t help but wonder if maybe he does have assumptions he doesn’t realize he has.  But he also really cares for Carly, and he is taking Spanish classes, so he really is trying, and that definitely gives him a lot of brownie points.

It really is a great look at poverty, racism and immigration, and it’s so relevant to some of the issues/thing that seem to be coming up/happening recently.  It’s handled so well, and yet, it’s sad that I can see something like this happening.

I do wish we got more closure with what happened to her parents, and I wish we knew if they made their way to the U.S.

While I liked both Kyla Garcia and Andrew Garcia as narrators (I could totally picture them as Carly and Arden), I especially loved Kyla Garcia’s narration.  She was Carly to me, and I liked her so much I even added one or two other books she’s narrated to my wishlist.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

4 stars.  I do wish we got more closure with what happened to her parents, but at the same time, I’m okay with how the book ended.  And it’s such a great book that I’m willing to overlook it.