Next Meeting: October 17, 2018 at 7:30
To Discuss: The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

The Book of Unknown Americans is a novel that gives voice to millions of Americans as it tells the story of the love between a Panamanian-American boy and a Mexican girl: teenagers living in a Delaware apartment block of immigrant families like their own. Peopled with deeply sympathetic characters from all walks of immigrant life, this poignant but unsentimental tale of young love tells a riveting story of unflinching honesty and humanity that offers a resonant new definition of what it means to be an American.

Cristina Henriquez earned her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She lives in Illinois. The Book of Unknown Americans was a New York Times Notable Book of 2014 and one of Amazon’s 10 Best Books of the Year. It was the Daily Beast Novel of the Year, a Washington Post Notable Book, an NPR Great Read, a Target Book of the Month selection, and was chosen one of the best books of the year by BookPage, Oprah.com, and School Library Journal. It was also longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and was a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

To Think About While You Read: Henriquez has one of her peripheral characters say, “If people want to tell me to go home, I just smile politely and say, ‘I’m already there!'” As you read think about what “home” means to the main characters in the book, especially the Riveras. How does the meaning shift and change as the story progresses?

Web Articles for Further Reading:
Americanos. July 3, 2014. By Ana Castillo, New York Times Book Review, nytimes.com
Cristina Henriquez on “The Book of Unknown Americans.” May 30, 2014. by Kevin Nance, chicagotribune.com

About the Group: Book Discussions are planned for the third Wednesday of the month September through June (No July or August 2018 meeting). All adult patrons enthusiastic about reading and talking about what they have read are invited to attend as often as they can. The conversations are lively, intelligent, and insightful — come and join us!

Just before each meeting, you can pick up your copy for the next month’s discussion at the Circulation Desk. If you have questions, please contact Karen Stern at the Reference Desk or email stern@noblenet.org.

 

2018-2019 SCHEDULE (2018-2019 Discussion Titles were voted on by group members in May 2018.)

November 14, 2018    Ko, Lisa. The Leavers
Ko’s novel is a moving story of how a boy comes into his own when everything he loves is taken away, and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of the past. One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, Polly, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, goes to her job at a nail salon – and never comes home. With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left mystified and bereft. Eventually adopted by a pair of well-meaning white professors, Deming is moved from the Bronx to a small town upstate and renamed Daniel Wilkinson, all the while struggling to reconcile his new life of assimilation with his memories of his mother and the community he left behind. Set in New York and China, The Leavers is a vivid examination of borders and belonging.
December 19, 2018   Semple, Maria. Where’d  You Go Bernadette?
Bernadette Fox is notorious. To Elgie Branch, a Microsoft wunderkind, she’s his hilarious, volatile, talented, troubled wife. To fellow mothers at the school gate, she’s a menace. To design experts, she’s a revolutionary architect. And to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, quite simply, mum. Then Bernadette disappears. And Bee must take a trip to the end of the earth to find her. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a compulsively readable, irresistibly written, deeply touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s place in the world.
January 16, 2019   Gaiman, Neil. The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
February 20, 2019   Grann, David. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI.
In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe. Then, one by one, they began to be killed off. In this last remnant of the Wild West virtually anyone who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage, the newly created F.B.I. took up the case, in what became one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations. But the bureau was then notoriously corrupt and initially bungled the case. Eventually the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only Native American agents in the bureau. They infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest modern techniques of detection. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most sinister conspiracies in American history.
March 20, 2019    Gyasi, Yaa. Homegoing
Two half sisters, Effia and Esi, unknown to each other, are born into different villages in 18th-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and will live in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle, raising children who will be educated abroad before returning to the Gold Coast to serve as administrators of the empire. Esi, imprisoned beneath Effia in the castle’s women’s dungeon and then shipped off on a boat bound for America, will be sold into slavery. Stretching from the wars of Ghana to slavery and the Civil War in America, from the coal mines in the American South to the Great Migration to 20th-century Harlem, Yaa Gyasi’s novel moves through histories and geographies and captures – with outstanding economy and force – the troubled spirit of our own nation.
April 17, 2019  Jones, Tayari. An American Marriage
Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. They are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined when Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together. A profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control.
May 15, 2019  Saunders, George. Lincoln in the Bardo
February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns, alone, to the crypt several times to hold his boy’s body. From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state – called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo – a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.
June 19, 2019  Frankel, Laurie. This Is How It Always  Is
This is Claude. He’s five years old, the youngest of five brothers, and loves peanut butter sandwiches. He also loves wearing a dress, and dreams of being a princess. When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl. Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world. Soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes. This Is How It Always Is is a novel about revelations, transformations, fairy tales, and family.

Previous Discussions (1998 to 2018)