Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon

Posted June 30, 2020 by Amber in Reviews / 0 Comments

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Don't Ask Me Where I'm From

Don't Ask Me Where I'm From

by Jennifer De Leon

Publisher: Atheneum on August 4, 2020
Genre: Contemporary
Target Age Group: Young Adult

Rating: ★★★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

Fifteen-year-old Liliana is fine, thank you very much. It’s fine that her best friend, Jade, is all caught up in her new boyfriend lately. It’s fine that her inner-city high school is disorganized and underfunded. It’s fine that her father took off again—okay, maybe that isn’t fine, but what is Liliana supposed to do? She’s fifteen! Being left with her increasingly crazy mom? Fine. Her heathen little brothers? Fine, fine, fine. But it turns out Dad did leave one thing behind besides her crazy family. Before he left, he signed Liliana up for a school desegregation program called METCO. And she’s been accepted.

Being accepted into METCO, however, isn’t the same as being accepted at her new school. In her old school, Liliana—half-Guatemalan and half-Salvadorian—was part of the majority where almost everyone was a person of color. But now at Westburg, where almost everyone is white, the struggles of being a minority are unavoidable. It becomes clear that the only way to survive is to lighten up—whiten up. And if Dad signed her up for this program, he wouldn’t have just wanted Liliana to survive, he would have wanted her to thrive. So what if Liliana is now going by Lili? So what if she’s acting like she thinks she’s better than her old friends? It’s not a big deal. It’s fine.

But then she discovers the gutting truth about her father: He’s not on one of his side trips. And it isn’t that he doesn’t want to come home…he can’t. He’s undocumented and he’s been deported back to Guatemala. Soon, nothing is fine, and Lili has to make a choice: She’s done trying to make her white classmates and teachers feel more comfortable. Done changing who she is, denying her culture and where she came from. They want to know where she’s from, what she’s about? Liliana is ready to tell them.

 

This book is so good.

It’s good in a way that pulls you right into the story, that unabashedly talks about issues of race, and has characters that could walk right off the page.  Right now, books about Black trauma are being gobbled up, but there isn’t enough conversation about subtle daily racism.  Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is not a Black book, but it approaches racism from a latinx view and pays respects to Black voices as well.  And it should not be ignored.

I think of most people, the most difficult thing about Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is the voice.  This novel is written in first person, and the writing style is Liliana’s voice.  Which is to say – it’s not this polished, white voice that we’re used to.  It’s done really well and I think it adds well to the aesthetic and atmosphere, especially as her voice changes throughout the book.  But dialects are the sort of thing that tend to draw criticism.  I love it and I think it’s not only appropriate, but a strong choice.

Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is about Liliana Cruz.  She’s a latinx teen whose been accepted into a high-end suburban high school through METCO, which is an initiative in the Boston area to give inner-city kids better access to high eduction.  She’s smart and creative and cares so much about the people around her.  Liliana is a great character – one of those strong protagonists that don’t need to be constantly getting into fights to prove herself.  She also doesn’t need a perfect Cinderella story to shine because she shines all along.  Liliana is not the only dynamic character, though.  Her brothers are wonderful, both Jade and Holly were interesting contrasts I wasn’t sure how to approach.  Other characters were flawed and fantastic in different ways.  The adults mattered in this story without taking over the spotlight and our villain… our villain was far too familiar a character, and how he is dealt with through most of the book is very typical of the real world.  Which makes it good, and challenges the reader to build a better ending in the real world.

Jennifer De Leon is an #OwnVoices author, which brings Liliana all that more to life.  Her writing makes this contemporary so easy to read – it very much could be a single-sitting book – while there are also so many subtleties that make the book complex and nuanced.  There are moment where some stuff may feel a little cheesy, but honestly?  Real life is cheesy sometimes too.

I just… I’m so exasperated by how little press and appreciation this book is getting.  I think publication may have been pushed to August because that’s what Amazon says now… but I pre-ordered this a while ago and Barnes & Noble must have made a mistake because I got this book in MAY.  I really hope the lack of excitement is due to the delay and I’m just lucky that B&N messed up.  Please prove me wrong about my fears about this book disappearing into the void at the end of the summer when all retailers will have it! <3

Anyway, Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is a great pick on a few different levels.  If you like fiction and are looking to educate yourself a bit better on daily racism, this is a good one.  Also, life from the perspective of a child born in the US to undocumented parents!  Stepping outside of the themes on race, though, this is a great fast-paced contemporary and it ends up leaning into found family a bit at the end, which is one of my favorite tropes.  Not only do I easily recommend this book, but I’d really love to read Brianna or Genesys’s stories, if Jennifer De Leon were so inclined to write them.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★★★
Plot: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★★★
Writing: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★★

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Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From Stays on My Shelf

I really enjoyed this book, and even though certain parts made me uncomfortable (as they should), I would happily read it again.  I can see Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From being a mood read – I like Liliana that much.

Additionally, and this is something I don’t talk much about in the review itself, this was just super fun because it’s set in the Boston area, which is a stone’s throw from where I live.  Many, many of the real places and cities De Leon mentioned are places I know well.  That’s always fun in a book, you know?

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Do you have many latinx #OwnVoices books on your shelf?  I honestly… don’t.  Latinx characters are one of the minorities that I feel are hugely under-repped.  I can only think of three YA books with latinx MCs, so hit me up with others I should add to me TBR!

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