Find it at your library!

The Distance Between Us is a first-hand account of an undocumented immigrant’s journey from Mexico to the U.S. It describes the author’s life growing up in Mexico in two very different grandmothers’ homes and her eventual border crossing with her father and two siblings, followed by her life in America, “el otro lado.” Life wasn’t easy for Reyna in either country, but there was a stark contrast between the bamboo shack she lived in with her maternal grandmother and the comparatively spacious apartment her father and stepmother owned in California. When she goes back to Mexico for a visit after living on the other side of the border, she has a hard time believing she once lived there, that that was her daily reality. As an adult, she knows with frightening certainty how different her life would have been if she hadn’t come to the U.S.

This book doesn’t read like most memoirs—it’s very structured, for one, and fairly strict with chronology. The language is simple and straightforward, almost childlike. After reading an interview in which Grande explained that her goal was to tell the story through the eyes of the child she was, her chosen style made sense to me. Grande consciously chose not to impose her adult self into the narrative very often, which gives her impressions and reactions a very immediate feel as opposed to the distance created when memoirists analyze their experiences with the benefit of hindsight.

Favorite bits: I think what most impressed me was Grande’s determination. She has no time for negativity—she has too many things she wants to accomplish. I especially loved following her journey through school as she developed her writing. Even though she moved on to more highbrow literature later in life, it gave me a tickle that one of her favorite authors in high school was V.C. Andrews, as I also remember the eyebrow-raising thrill of discovering her books. And the time she spent with her paternal grandmother Evila (so perfectly named she could be a Disney villain!) was wrenching, but also…I couldn’t wait to see what she was going to pull next. The woman was creative in her cruelty.


Find it at your library!

The gift that was our trip to see Hamilton keeps on giving. Recently the Library Hotel called to say they loved the blog post I wrote detailing our stay, and wouldn’t you know it, they still had a copy of that ARC I mentioned wanting to steal from the front desk, and if I’d confirm my address, they’d put it in the mail and send it to me with their thanks.

See, kids? The lesson here is don’t steal things. Write publicly about your desire to steal them, and people will give them to you for free!

(In case it wasn’t clear in my original post, I want to note that my glowing remarks about the Library Hotel were 100% unsponsored and unsolicited. They’d never heard of me before (what, you thought this blog was big potatoes?) and did not ask me to write anything about them. I’m just a book nerd who stayed in their hotel, absolutely adored it, and wanted to share it with (my teeny tiny little corner of) the world. In writing the post, I had no expectation that anyone at the Library Hotel would ever read it, much less volunteer to give me anything I super badly wanted. End of disclaimer.)

Anyway, I was jazzed to get my hands on this ARC, because Southeast Asian history is an area I’d like to learn more about. I feel like I know so little about the culture, the struggles, and *ahem* U.S. involvement in that part of the world, even when it comes to the past fifty years or so. There’s no excuse, man! Especially right now, when U.S. relations with just about every other country in the world are so fraught with tension and uncertainty.

Ratner is a really lovely writer, and she tells a sometimes brutal and heartrending story with a featherlight touch. Obviously it’s hard to sell people on a book by saying, “Here! Read this book about a genocide!” but Ratner truly does spin straw (or worse) into gold here. It’s an ugly story at times, but her telling of it is consistently beautiful.

I also found main character Teera’s reflections on feeling Cambodian in America and American in Cambodia to be incredibly timely and honest, again particularly in light of the current hostility towards immigrants. I imagine it would be very difficult to feel welcome here with the vitriol that has been spewing from so many mouths.

With warmest regards to the Library Hotel for the advance copy. On sale April 11!