“A funny, perceptive, and much-needed book telling a much-needed story.” —Celeste Ng, author of the New York Times bestseller Little Fires Everywhere
First-generation American LatinX Liliana Cruz does what it takes to fit in at her new nearly all-white school. But when family secrets spill out and racism at school ramps up, she must decide what she believes in and take a stand.
Liliana Cruz is a hitting a wall—or rather, walls.
There’s the wall her mom has put up ever since Liliana’s dad left—again.
There’s the wall that delineates Liliana’s diverse inner-city Boston neighborhood from Westburg, the wealthy—and white—suburban high school she’s just been accepted into.
And there’s the wall Liliana creates within herself, because to survive at Westburg, she can’t just lighten up, she has to whiten up.
So what if she changes her name? So what if she changes the way she talks? So what if she’s seeing her neighborhood in a different way? But then light is shed on some hard truths: It isn’t that her father doesn’t want to come home—he can’t…and her whole family is in jeopardy. And when racial tensions at school reach a fever pitch, the walls that divide feel insurmountable.
But a wall isn’t always a barrier. It can be a foundation for something better. And Liliana must choose: Use this foundation as a platform to speak her truth, or risk crumbling under its weight.
Things are tense at home for 15-year-old Liliana Cruz: her father has been gone for weeks, her mother is increasingly depressed but won't tell her why, and she's recently been accepted into a program she didn't even know her parents signed her up for: METCO, a high school "desegregation program." Now she must wake up at 5 a.m. to catch the bus from diverse inner-city Boston to a predominantly white and wealthy suburban high school. With her distracted best friend Jade wrapped up in a new boyfriend and the other METCO kids ignoring her, Liliana has to find her own way in Westburg High. But just as she makes friends with sarcastic Holly and starts a romance with a seemingly sweet white boy named Dustin, her new equilibrium is thrown off-kilter by an incident of racism and the well-wrought, devastating revelation of where her father really is. De Leon's debut handles issues such as immigration, deportation, assimilation, and Trump-era racial tensions in a humorous yet resonant way. Throughout, Liliana's narration remains authentic as she finds her voice, making for a fulfilling, thoroughly contemporary read. Ages 14 up.
Review of Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From
Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon is an interesting book. The book’s beginning is unique, although it almost pushed me to stop reading this book. It begins with a discussion during the “Making Proud Choices Class” about female condoms. This story makes it quickly becomes clear that this book is focused on teenagers and their antics. The book follows the narrator, Liliana Cruz, as she goes through life, switching schools from one in Jamaica Plain to another in Westburg. She is accepted into the METCO program, a real program that exists to continue the desegregation of schools.
Although the characters are teenagers and seem immature, the book highlights important and underrepresented societal issues. Liliana and her fellow METCO students face discrimination and learn to combat it. They hold discussions and an assembly where they attempt to address these issues. Not only does the book have a focus on racial discrimination, but also issues regarding immigration and deportation. Liliana’s parents are immigrants, and during the book, her father is deported from the United States to Guatemala. This event shows Liliana and her family’s struggle as they do not know her father’s future. Liliana’s mother’s life turns to chaos, and Liliana both helps take care of the family and tries to fit in at her new school in Westburg.
This book is also fairly easy to read, as both the writing and story are simple. Throughout the book, many sentences are very straightforward, with only one or two words. There are some examples of strong vocabulary, though I found that they are few and far between. Though, there were many examples of basic Spanish vocabulary and cultural terms, often regarding food. In addition, the story is fairly easy to understand, especially when many details are clarified multiple times. For some readers, this may be helpful, as the book is quick to read because the repetition allows many details to be skimmed over. Though for myself, I found that it made the book boring, as I do not like to read the same thing twice.
On top of that, the story also jumps around in some places. At the end of one chapter, the characters will be at school, yet at the beginning of the next chapter, Liliana is at home with her family. The book rarely clarifies the progression of time, as there are no dates attached or expressions used to indicate time’s passing. This made the story confusing at the beginning of each chapter, though eventually it became more clear where it was going. There are also many side plots, which I found to be distracting from the main story. I would have much preferred the story to focus on the two main plots, Liliana at her new school and her dad’s struggles.
Though, the characters in this story are strong and developed. Liliana, the protagonist, is shown as she evolves from being the timid “new kid” at her new school to a fierce leader in her community. She interacts with many other characters, such as her artistic best friend Jade, her new friend Holly, her METCO buddy Genesis, the athletic Rayshawn, her surprisingly toxic ex-boyfriend Dustin, and his annoying friend, Steve. From these characters, Liliana figures out who her real friends are and where her priorities lie.
Although the book has some shortcomings regarding its writing, I would recommend it to a certain audience. I think this book is most suitable for 7th-10th grade students, due to some swearing and heavy subjects, although the book is easy to read. This book addresses many underrepresented societal issues, such as racial discrimination, desegregation, immigration, and deportation. For a teenage reader, the characters may seem relatable, as they communicate like teenagers and are awkward like teenagers.