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Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America Hardcover – September 22, 2009


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Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America + Race in the Schoolyard: Negotiating the Color Line in Classrooms and Communities (Rutgers Series in Childhood Studies)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (September 22, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416538933
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416538936
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #183,968 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

"An excellent, in-depth study of immigration policies gone amok." -- Library Journal

"Just Like Us beautifully and powerfully reminds us of the individuals whose lives lie at the center of the chaos that is our approach to immigration. Helen Thorpe has taken policy and turned it into literature." -- Malcolm Gladwell

"With a gaze that is tender and ever alert, Helen Thorpe follows the lives of four young women -- Mexican and American -- so alike in their coming-of-age, but separated by the ironies of geography, the border that cuts through the heart." -- Richard Rodriguez, author of Brown: The Last Discovery of America

"This is a penetrating, fair, and refreshingly personal examination of the passions that fuel the immigration controversy in this country. Helen Thorpe measures the arguments on both sides of this national debate against the actual human costs imposed by the status quo. This book will find a central place in this debate." -- Lawrence Wright, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

"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

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.

Customer Reviews

This book puts the story of illegal immigration onto human faces.
Lynn Ellingwood
I just hope that someday Ms. Thorpe gives us an update on the lives of the humans in her story.
Kermit
This was my book club's selection and we all felt more enlightened after reading it.
lovetaread

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Story Circle Book Reviews on 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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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kristen VINE VOICE on 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 6 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Ellingwood VINE VOICE on 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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34 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Geneva Lewis VINE VOICE on 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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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Adam Rust VINE VOICE on January 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Helen Thorpe presents an account of the lives of four young Mexican-American girls living in Denver in 2004. This is narrative non-fiction, in the spirit of works by Alex Kotlowitz, Tracy Kidder, Norman Mailer, or David Simon.

In the glow of my memories for reading those works, I approached Just Like Us with a lot of excitement. This story holds a lot of relevance. Our nation is riven with emotion about the question of immigration, and the impacts of the new demographics present forces that cannot help but change our country. It is not a new story - the Mexican arrivals are just another iteration of so many that have come before them.

These girls are all involved in the normal transitions for young people "coming of age." They have left high school and are beginning college. They have important social relationships. Their lives are in flux. That is disrupted by a larger event that explodes in Denver. An immigrant commits a murder in a local restaurant. The news strikes a chord in Denver. The fact that the restaurant is owned by a local politician, who had unknowingly employed the assailant in spite of his lack of working papers, provokes a lot of attention from anti-immigration leaders.

Thorpe has one advantage that most of these writers cannot claim. She has the ability to view the lives of the people in her story from two perspectives. She is the wife of the Mayor of Denver. That means that while she spends her days following these girls, she spends her private life participating in her husband's emotional and political sphere. The murder puts her husband in a crisis.

This book covers an event that become a focal point for the political campaign for a Presidential candidate - Tom Tancredo.
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