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Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America [Kindle Edition]

Helen Thorpe
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $17.00
Kindle Price: $12.99
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Book Description

A powerful and moving account of four young women from Mexico who have lived most of their lives in the United States and attend the same high school. Two of them have legal documentation and two do not. Just Like Us is their story.

A stunning work of in-depth journalism in the tradition of Random Family, Helen Thorpe's Just Like Us takes us deep into an American subculture -- that of Mexican immigrants -- largely hidden from the mainstream. We meet four girls on the eve of their senior prom, in Denver, Colorado. Each is bright and ambitious and an excellent student. Their leader, Marisela, dazzles teachers during the day and spends her evenings checking groceries to help pay the bills. She dreams of college and a professional career -- but she doesn't have a green card or a Social Security number because her parents brought her across the border illegally.

Marisela's best friend, Yadira, shares her predicament. But they spend all of their time with two girls who are legal -- Elissa, who was born in the United States, and Clara, who has a green card. Each of the girls views the others as her equals, yet the world does not treat them that way.

Their situation becomes increasingly painful and complex as the four young women approach adulthood, and Marisela and Yadira watch their two legal friends gain opportunities that are not available to them. All four hold American aspirations, but only Clara and Elissa have the documents necessary to realize those hopes. Their friendship starts to divide along lines of immigration status.

Then a political firestorm begins. An illegal immigrant commits a horrendous crime in Denver, and a local congressman seizes on the act as proof of all that is wrong with American society. Arguments over immigration rage fiercely, and the girls' lives play out against a backdrop of intense debate over whether they have any right to live in the country where they have grown up.

This brilliant, fast-paced work of narrative journalism is a vivid coming-of-age story about girlhood, friendship, and, most of all, identity -- what it means to fake an identity, steal an identity, or inherit an identity from one's parents and country. No matter what one's opinions are about immigration, Just Like Us offers fascinating insight into one of our most complicated social issues today. The girls, their families, those who welcome them, and those who object to their presence all must grapple with the same deep dilemma: Who is an American? Who gets to live in America? And what happens when we don't agree?


Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

By the time Marisela, Yadira, Clara and Elissa—four girls of Mexican descent from the suburbs of Denver—entered their freshman year in high school, they were inseparable, but four years later, their fundamental difference threatened to divide them: Clara and Elissa were legal residents, but Marisela and Yadira had begun to suffer the repercussions of their parents' choice to illegally enter the U.S. Journalist Thorpe, married to Denver mayor John Hickenlooper, met them as the girls without legal status were finding their friends' liberties—big and small—to attend college, drive or even rent a movie unbearable. It was hard for Marisela and Yadira to see why they should labor over their homework if they were just going to end up working at McDonald's, Thorpe writes. Marisela slid into trouble with ease, but Yadira found the experience profoundly disorienting. With striking candor, Thorpe chronicles the girls' lives over four years, delineating the small but arresting differences that will separate them and shape their futures. She personalizes the ongoing debate over immigration and frames it so compassionately and sensibly that even the staunchest opponents of immigration liberalization might find themselves rethinking their positions. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"With a perfect combination of narrative and reflection, empathy and analysis, Helen Thorpe tells both a particular story of four irresistibly engaging young women, and a universal story of the struggle between human aspiration and intractable obstacles. If this book gets widely read, our national conversation on immigration could make a shift from 'shrill and draining' to 'thoughtful and productive.' In this book, the force and power of journalism reach their peak." -- Patricia Nelson Limerick, author of The Legacy of Conquest and Something in the Soil

Product Details


Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
31 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Double Standards Illustrate Illegals' Dilemmas October 2, 2009
Format:Hardcover
Four Mexican girls, two legal immigrants born in the United States, and two illegals born in Mexico with legal siblings born in the US, grew up as best friends in junior high and high school. Just Like Us reads like a detective novel as Helen Thorpe shows how they cope with these similarities and differences--how they manage to get real or fake IDs, drivers' licenses, jobs, and college financial aid--all the while dealing with deported parents, boyfriends, and peer pressure. Finally, when an illegal immigrant teenager murders a Denver police officer, additional obstacles emerge to thwart their happy friendships as their differences become even more evident. As Thorpe, wife of Denver's mayor, relates, "All of us found ourselves in new territory, far from our point of origin. I didn't know what the rules were anymore."

Through reading this book, I learned to care about how these girls survived the conflicting laws in the US that seemed, for the most part, to prevent them from achieving the American dream. Thorpe relates to their dilemmas, having been an immigrant herself. She documents how their fiercest opponent, Tom Tancredo, himself offspring of immigrant grandparents, tries to gain political capital by blocking illegal immigrants from receiving decent educational programs, health care, and respect. At the same time, the Mexican immigrants--both legal and illegal--must pick fruit and vegetables, clean dirty buildings, and remodel other wealthy citizens' houses in order to survive.

As Thorpe weaves these girls' lives through the events swirling around them, I found myself staying up late to read one more chapter, or two, or three before going to sleep.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Touching Portrait of Four Latino Girls April 26, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The author follows 4 girls from an urban Denver high school who are both Latina and good students. Two are legal immigrants and two are not. The girls follow the same path in trying to get to college but some are hampered by lack of eligibility of financial aid and cost of international tuition. How they cope in high school, college and beyond are the subject of this book. Even more interesting is how the families are affected around them. Imagine going back to Mexico and leaving your American born children here to fend for themselves or tell the older sibling to watch them. This book puts the story of illegal immigration onto human faces. Very interesting.
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36 of 48 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Docudrama Doesn't Translate To Book Format December 6, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Helen Thorpe had a good idea: capture the saga of four Latina high schoolers, two of whom are legal citizens and two who are not. The cover with the doe- eyed depressed teen's photo should have warned me that this would have a thudding, "after-school special" quality, and it does. Great concept; good representatives are found in Marisela, Yadira, Clara, and Elissa. However, Thorpe's approach is somewhat helter-skelter: Is it political, personal profile, or third-person characterizations from afar? Unfortunately, it's a little bit of all three, and I felt as though the story is the equivalent of a carriage with its wheels stuck in the mud. Where, or how, are we going? Unlike oral historians such as Studs Terkel, we are not given the sense of each person; each young woman is always filtered through Thorpe's slightly priggish, English schoolmarm eyes. The section where she sat on the periphery during a graduation night party at a Mexican nightclub in Denver would be the prototype for my argument. Too many people, too many stories, too many agendas. The story would have been well told as a documentary with visual storytelling. I'm sorry to say I could never get excited about this book.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting perspectives January 30, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
First of all, I was intrigued about and somewhat wary of the whole idea of tying the characters together with the prom. I was afraid that it would read like an extended cliche, but Just Like Us is no cliche: It is absolutely real. The girls who are the subjects of the book lead complicated and difficult lives at times, and citizenship is an ever-looming entity that both unites and divides the girls. I found this to be the most engaging part of the book. Immigration law is by no means clarified, and if anything, this is what the book exposes. Immigration and citizenship are more than simply passage of laws and enforcing policy- This is how such laws and processes affect real people. I agree with another reviewer in that the book has an "after-school special" feel to it, but it does delve deeper than that. I would encourage anyone who has strong opinions about illegal immigration, immigration policy, and amnesty to pick up this book and peek into the lives of real people whose lives are affected on every level by these issues.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No Easy Answers February 27, 2010
By madbee
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I especially wanted to read this book because I am an ESL teacher and I live in Denver. The author tells the story of four young Mexican American women who are good friends. It is their story but it is much more. It is the story of illegal immigrants and the many businesses who hire them, sometimes knowing that their documents are fake. It is the story of parent who are in the United States illegally and their children who are born here. It is the conflicting story of high school students who work hard and dream of going to college despite the obstacles some of them will face.

We meet them in their senior year. All are good students; two are legal and two are not. All four want to attend college, but the two without papers have problems figuring out how to pay for tuition without access to in-state tuition rates and financial aid. Thorpe describes the many dimensions of their lives, their academic experiences, their jobs, their families and their social lives.

Helen Thorpe also brings in the relevant political issues concerning immigration. She interviews Tom Tancredo, a former Colorado Congressman who has strong opinions about illegal immigration. Thorpe also describes various national votes and proposals and how they affect the girls and the possibilities for their futures in the United States.

Denver has many immigrants from many countries, but when the subject of immigrants comes up, many people think of Mexicans. And, even though Americans of Mexican descent share Colorado's history for generations, many people think of Mexicans as illegal.

Thorpe, as the Denver mayor's wife, is brought into the details of the shooting death of an off-duty policeman, working at a Mexican social club.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars This book caused one of the best discussions we have had in our book...
This book caused one of the best discussions we have had in our book club. Everyone learned so much about this issue and our role in assisting in helping those with illegal... Read more
Published 1 day ago by mystery sloof
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Read!!
Loved this book!! Gives you another side to the whole immigration conversation.
Published 5 days ago by writingdiva
5.0 out of 5 stars This book really makes you think. Originally, I ...
This book really makes you think. Originally, I chose this book for a Spanish project, but I ended up buying the book. Read more
Published 1 month ago by thestinanator
5.0 out of 5 stars 100 % recommended, good product quality
serious people , 100 % recommended, good product quality , delivery times respected .
Published 3 months ago by Edwin Aguilar
5.0 out of 5 stars an important issue in today's America
This book was an eye opener for me. I know how it is for people of color to traverse American life. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
You have to read this book to see what undocumented people experience.
Published 3 months ago by Patricia K.
3.0 out of 5 stars there were way to many details which detracted greatly from the...
The topic of this book was absolutely fascinting. However, there were way to many details which detracted greatly from the enjoyment and learning from the story. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Anne Chalmers
3.0 out of 5 stars The book entails situations that are eye opening and fill you with...
Helen Thorpe does a lovely job of showcasing the lives of these four girls, two illegal and two legal. Read more
Published 5 months ago by narah
5.0 out of 5 stars This needs to change
Helen Thorpe describes how undocumented children are affected by not having legal papers through no fault of their own. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Carol Ioannides
2.0 out of 5 stars Helen Thorpe
Redundant - not the best writer. At the same time, revealing about the trials and tribulations of young people through no fault of their own.
Published 6 months ago by Aminata
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More About the Author

Helen Thorpe is the author of Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War. Doris Kearns Goodwin said of this book: "With a novelist's perception of character, drama and telling detail, Helen Thorpe magically weaves together the stories of three very different but equally compelling women soldiers. Taken together, their stories provide an intimate window on life in the military, the impact of war and the difficult transition to home. This is an absolutely terrific and important work." And O Magazine wrote: "Parenthood and roadside bombs, young love and PTSD--finally, a nuanced look at the lives of female soldiers that is as intimate as it is groundbreaking."

Previously, Helen Thorpe has written magazine stories for the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, Texas Monthly, Westword, and 5280. She lives in Denver, Colorado. Her first book, Just Like Us, was published by Scribner in 2009. It was named one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts adapted the book for the stage in 2013. Soldier Girls was published by Scribner in August 2014.

Author Photograph by Marea Evans.

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