Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tell Us We're Home

Tell Us We're HomeTell Us We're Home by Marina Budhos
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Three friends whose mothers are all housekeepers in their affluent town drift apart as each girl struggles separately to find a place in America where she can feel at home.

Each girl is an immigrant from a different country: Jaya is from Trinidad, Maria is from Mexico, and Lola is from Slovakia. They were originally drawn together by shared feelings of alienation from the wealthy Americans around them and the fact that their mothers are all maids.

After Jaya Lal's mother's employer suffers a massive heart attack, Mrs. Lal is suspected of stealing some valuable jewelry and fired. Jaya secretly wonders if the accusations might be true.

Maria meets a handsome blanco boy and offers to give him Spanish lessons as a way to get close. She secretly struggles with feelings of envy for the privileged lives of the Americans her mother works for.

Lola (my favorite of the three) is sharp-tongued and outspoken, and frustrated with her depressed father's unwillingness to find work. She resents her own outsider status at school, but everything she does to stand up for herself pushes people further away.

The story is heavily invested in character development and is told in a non-linear way, with plenty of flashbacks and descriptions. (At first, it was difficult to follow the main thread of the story and to know which character's POV I was following.) Each girl comes to a revelation about herself and her relationship to her new country, but other than that there is little resolution to their problems.

It's not the kind of book I typically gravitate toward, and for me it was just okay. Too slow-moving, and I found myself getting irritated with the girls for devaluing their mothers' hard work by being ashamed of them. It was frustrating how the affluent white characters were stereotypes and were characterized as "the enemy" even though the girls made almost no attempts to get to know their white classmates as people.

It's the kind of book grownups want kids to love, but that doesn't offer a compelling story to hold their attention, and is deadly serious without any levity to liven things up. Definitely for older teens with literary tastes. For my YA realistic fiction, I'll stick with John Green (The Fault in Our Stars) or Sherman Alexie (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian) who both have a much-needed sense of humor when tackling difficult issues.

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