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Make Your Home Among Strangers: A Novel Hardcover – August 4, 2015
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An Amazon Best Book of August 2015: What is a family? How do we define home? These are the questions Jennine Capó Crucet addresses in her first novel after the prizewinning collection, How to Leave Hialeah. The daughter of Cuban immigrants in Miami, Lizet Ramirez is the first member of her family to graduate high school – and surely the first to have gotten admitted to a tony private college up north. Wise but naïve, ambitious but clueless, Lizet knows she wants to escape the world of misery in Little Havana – her teenage sister has just become a single mother; her passionate parents have finally split apart – but she doesn’t quite fit in at the mostly white and upper middle class place she’s going, either. (One of my favorite scenes involved a literature professor assuming that because she was of Latin American descent, freshman Lizet understood everything about the literary tradition known as Magical Realism.) Returning home for a surprise visit on Thanksgiving, she’s greeted by the news about the (real life) five-year-old Cuban boy, Ariel Hernandez, whose mother had died trying to bring him to the states; Hernandez became a cause celeb nationwide, particularly in Florida, and here in the novel as well, especially with Lizet’s lonely mother. Interspersing the two stories, Crucet shows us how two children, separated, for different reasons, from their families, are more alike than not. And how, like all of us, they eventually have to come to terms with their identities. – Sara Nelson
From School Library Journal
In this beautifully written and compulsively readable coming-of-age novel, Lizet is the daughter of Cuban immigrants and the first in her family to attend college—and it's not Miami-Dade Community College, either; it's Rawlings College, an elite liberal arts school in upstate New York, where Lizet has received a full scholarship. While Lizet is away from home, experiencing snow for the first time and finding out just how poorly Hialeah Lakes High School prepared her for higher education, her family and boyfriend Omar continue their lives in Miami and don't understand what Lizet is doing. It's 1999, and Lizet's mother is caught up in the case of five-year-old Cuban refugee Ariel Hernandez (a fictionalized but essentially accurate version of the Elián González case), which serves as a mirror for Lizet's own situation of being torn between two cultures. Lizet's trips home at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter reveal the growing distance between where she came from and where she wants to go. VERDICT Capó Crucet has created an utterly believable character in Lizet, whose struggles with family, studies, friendships, culture, identity, and the nature of home will resonate with older teens who are preparing to leave their own childhood homes.—Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County (CA) Library
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While the novel is technically fiction, I couldn’t help but read it as an autobiography of the author Jennine Capo Crucet. There are some scenes that come off as too real (and sometimes too benign) to be made up. Many scenes are overly descriptive, such as Lizet’s traveling between her college and home, so that the emotional and symbolic narrative gets lost in the noise. Most of the time the story feels long, unwieldy, and a slog to get through. However, there are gems among the rough as Lizet’s struggles to settle in both her old and new life make her an endearing protagonist. It’s easy to sympathize with her yearning to been seen as both a normal college student and someone who understands a Cuban immigrants struggle. Readers who want to learn about the struggle of Latino identity in America, or who can connect to it personally, may find Make Your Home Among Strangers a worthwhile read if they can forgive the slow pace and often overwritten narrative.