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4.7 out of 5 stars
The Distance Between Us: A Memoir
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
"The Distance Between Us" may be the most important book you read this year. No matter what your politics are, the immigration debate is definitely one of the most, if not the absolute most, contentious issues of this tumultuous election season. It becomes easy after awhile to let the images of fences, government legislation, and faceless bigotry cloud our perspectives. Reyna Grande has provided us with a very personal narrative, one that puts a special "face" on the issue.

The face belongs to little Reyna...a four year old resident of Iguala,Mexico, who is delegated to the care of her paternal grandparents when her parents make the decision to flee (illegaly) to "El Otro Lados" (The United States) to earn enough money to eventually return to Mexico and their children to build their "dream house." Reyna is the youngest of three, her older brother and sister provide much needed solace to Reyna during the ordeal, which lasts way, way too long.

We follow the Grande children through their breathtaking struggle to cope with surviving the life of "little orphans" in Mexico and all the way through the difficult path that comes with the remainder of their childhood. All of it expressed through the musings of Reyna, or "Nena" as she is lovingly referred to by her "little mother", her sister, Mago. As memories perceived through the eyes of a child, become the reader's guide, the book takes us on an intimate tour of the Mexican immigrant's experience both left behind in Mexico and across the perilous border into El Otro Lados.

This book is not as heavy on poetry, beautiful prose, and magical realism as many previous Latina/Chicana pieces of literature that I have read. Sandra Cisneros and Laura Esquivel charmingly took us on whimsical journeys through the lives of immigrants...Reyna takes us on an unflinchingly, painful ride through her days of always striving to come to terms with what she saw as the distance between herself and one beloved family member or another as they worked so hard to assimilate and make their dreams of getting ahead in life come true. Her words are not elaborate, her narrative, matter of fact...but trust me, you will feel what the experience of being an immigrant struggling to make the transition to becoming American, really is. In the pervasive culture of these times that can be so cruel and judgemental, Reyna's story should perhaps be mandatory reading for everyone...
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on September 13, 2012
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I am a Mexican American. Up until I read this book, I thought that my journey through life was excruciating. After reading this book I now know that I am not alone in my negative feelings about childhood experiances.The book provided me with a narrative on what young people expect from parents and the inability of delivering on those expectations. In this case The American Dream took the adults away and kept the parents from nurturing the children left behind.We seldom think of those left behind and what they must go through, especially when they are children. The scars inflicted on them at such a young age will forever brand them.
This book was written with a deliberate outlook for the issues that are seldom talked about. The passion that Reyna Grande used to stroke this book with, made me not want to put it down. My hope is that people from countries other than Mexico will read it as well.I'm quite sure that she isn't alone in what she experianced.
The book was anything but boring. It was insightful and powerful.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover
What is there to say about a writer who pours her heart and soul into her writing. She dares to open her private past to the world and at the same time makes a definitive point about our broken immigration system. Read it for the memoir then think how this story is repeated year after year with children of immigrant families.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon September 29, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande

"The Distance Between" is the inspirational coming-of-age memoir that captures a girl's challenging journey to reach her dreams. Award-winning writer Reyna Grande candidly shares her childhood that is reflective of the difficult challenges of the modern Mexican immigrant experience. This extraordinary woman shares her life with frankness and along the way provides a voice for many immigrants. This heart-warming 338-page book is broken out into the following two parts: 1. Mi Mamá Me Ama, and The Man Behind The Glass.

Positives:
1. A well-written, engaging, heartfelt coming-of-age memoir. Honest, personal storytelling.
2. A fascinating topic: the immigrant experience through the eyes of a Mexican girl.
3. The book has a very good flow. Grande is very descriptive and you never feel lost as a reader. It's her innate ability to tell a story and to adequately capture the emotions is what makes this reading experience very real.
4. A good story needs conflicts, challenges and this book is full of them. Some of the stories are gut wrenching and disturbing but ultimately heart-warming.
5. Touches on many topics of interest: poverty, immigration, politics, domestic abuse, alcoholism and education. These topics are not discussed as a separate issue but form part of the narrative. Grande asks big questions even as a little girl.
6. Thought-provoking. Some quotes will stick with you.
7. Family dynamics are very interesting. Growing up with very different grandmothers highlights how personalities impact a child. Parents leaving to "El Otro Lado" with the goal of providing for their families. Children desperately seeking role models and guidance.
8. The issue of poverty plays a prominent role in this memoir. If Grande's descriptive words weren't enough just take a look at a photo of her grandmother's very humble home. Basic necessities that we take for granted are a major challenge of everyday life for the Grande family.
9. Another major topic and a major theme reflected in the title is the issue of family separation. Grandparents are often left with the task of raising their grandchildren in poverty as sons and daughters go to "El otro lado" (the other side) with dreams of making it. This theme exemplifies the distance between us and is at the heart of this book.
10. Captures the culture through the eyes of a child. Food, religion, music, etc...
11. Another issue that caught my attention is the lack of access to affordable health. Several heart-breaking examples exemplify this issue in which care was deferred because of financial considerations.
12. The dangerous journey of immigrants. The process of legalization, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.
13. The always interesting transition to American life, some amusing stories and challenges.
14. The recurring theme of abandonment is captured vividly on many fronts and serves also as a metaphor for the distance between the families.
15. A recurring theme I find that is common among memoirs of interest like this one is the love of books. Obviously, this plays a prominent role in Grande's life and she shares the inspirational story of an admirable woman that serves as her mentor.
16. Grande is very candid and shares many personal issues of young adulthood.
17. Inspirational. Accomplishments and the future.
18. Excellent epilogue that summarizes the latest of her family.

Negatives:
1. I have to admit there were times I just wanted to finish the book because some of the themes are very difficult to get through and I just wanted to give somebody a hug.
2. There are important issues that were not addressed in the book yet played an important role: birth control, religion, patriarchal society, sex education and the cycle of poverty. Poverty obviously played a major role but the angle of how the aforementioned issues relate to one another was not.
3. Lack of supplementary material that would have added value to the book. I would have liked to have seen a formal bibliography of Grande's favorite books besides the ones she mentions within the narrative.
4. Lack of an appendix on links to associations or groups that Grande favors. As an example, groups that help immigrants.

In summary, this is a heartfelt memoir that captures vividly the plight of the Mexican immigrant. Grande has a way with words and tells her story with a brutal honesty that gives her narrative life. She takes us on a rollercoaster ride that takes us to a different world, culture and ultimately to a satisfying and rewarding experience, I highly recommend it!

Further suggestions: "Across a Hundred Mountains: A Novel" and "Dancing with Butterflies: A Novel" by the same author, "The House on Mango Street" by Sandra Cisneros, "My Beloved World" by Sonia Sotomayor, "A Fighting Chance" by Elizabeth Warren, "Rita Moreno: A Memoir" by Rita Moreno, "Infidel" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, "When I Was Puerto Rican: A Memoir (A Merloyd Lawrence Book)" by Esmeralda Santiago, and "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide" by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Important book. As a former teacher, I had many student just like Reyna in my classroom, and I only had hints of what they'd been through. Reyna filled in the blanks. Well written. Takes you on a journey of what it's like to be the child of immigrant parents, and what it feels like to spend most of your life without the nurturing parents are supposed to provide. Touching and heartbreaking.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 14, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I had to read this for a teacher certification class and was actually not at all interested in it at first. However it turned out to be a really engaging read and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Well written form the eyes of many of my future students and other immigrants to this country, really makes one appreciate simple things like running water and a roof. Turns out this was probably the best thing about that class.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I liked Reyna's honesty and perspective as she saw life through the eyes of a child and then as an adult. This is the first book of this kind which I have read. She did an excellent job.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
This book has opened my mind and heart to our countries immigration issues. I would of never known what the children of immigrant parents might suffer along the way and the strength they would need. A must read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I would have all 5-11 graders read this book to understand that life is different in different places. I did enjoy the book. The writer is a very fluid one, she expresses her ideas in a clear and easily accessible manner. I intend to read her other books. Liuda Avizonis
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on July 2, 2013
Format: Paperback
I came across The Distance Between Us: A Memoir, by Reyna Grande, because I thought it might be a good choice for students in my community college classroom. I therefore sighed a little upon opening it, scanning its pages with a sense of duty and the weight of a teacher's analytical equipment.

Grande's deceptively simple book, however, broke through all that within in moments and began speaking directly to my heart. In fact, I spent its last forty in tears, followed by an afternoon of mourning and reflection, trying to integrate all her book allowed me to see.

I learned about the impact Grande's parents' decision to emmigrate had on the children they left behind in Mexico. It helped me see immigration as part of a larger economic pattern and better understand its effect on both Mexican and US culture.

In this book, Grande is rigorously honest, reflecting a child's eye view of the world in its early pages and a very courageous adult's more nuanced view of familial love and longing in the later. The Distance Between Us: A Memoir is about class, and the complexities of class, capturing what it feels like to be economically impoverished and the slender borders between poor and even poorer--an area rarely reflected on in American prose in this manner and from the point of view of someone who has lived it this directly.

Once you open The Distance Between Us: A Memoir, it's nearly impossible to put it down because Grande is very adept and harnessing narrative force.

Her short chapters generally focus on small images and details that unfold onto larger truths. The images and details multiply over the course of several chapters in a manner that at first feels like a kaleidoscope and then begins forming an ordered picture of an entire economic phenomenon, one that includes family violence, trauma, and abandonment as well as the power of education and the difficulties far too many have in accessing it.
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