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Make Your Home Among Strangers: A Novel Paperback – July 12, 2016
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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--This text refers to the Digital edition.
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 --This text refers to the Digital edition.
Top customer reviews
If ever one needs to show a writing class that the only good writing comes from personal experience, then turn to new-on-the-scene Miami-born (to Cuban parents) Jennine Capo Crucet whose How to Leave Hialeah (why is Hialeah such a joke here in Miami-Dade County?) is a series of absolutely wonderful short stories, all about Cubans who dominate South Florida.
On the whole I adore most Cubans I’ve met in the past two decades here in South Florida (first in Key West and now in South Beach). They give new meaning to where to park those monster vehicles they love (no more 50s vintage for them now that they crossed that 90 miles stretch of water): on the front lawn! Okay! Okay! Don’t yell at me in espanol! Not all of them! But…
So I was so delighted to discover that this young author has produced a novel based on that well-known case of Attorney General Janet Reno’s (also from here): Elian Gonzalez who as a fictional character is Ariel Hernandez in the Crucet novel.
The opening of the novel is so funny (except that the reality isn’t): how this one Cuban-American family (representing so many others) used the canal behind their Hialeah house as their dump! (We now have pythons because the “pet” ones that outgrew their cages were tossed out onto the back cement slab and eventually got to the Everglades. Now we have an official hunting season for them here in Florida. (I am not joking!)
Lizet, a freshman at Rawlings University in up-state New York (she has a heavy dose of financial aid and gets to finally experience real snow), is from this family that dumps everything they don’t want into the canal except now the house has been sold by Lizet’s father who married her mother when they were teenagers. He alone sold it because it was only in his name.
And he’s gone from the scene.
And the scene has changed to—yes, you guessed it—Little Havana where Lizet’s mother has a tiny apartment she shares with her older daughter, Leidy, who as a high school senior at Hialeah Lakes High School (oh, my, does the author go after that school) went off the pill because after graduation what would come next would be marriage to Rolando. Except he wasn’t in on the plan. And so there in that little apartment are mother and older daughter and, yes, not-yet-a-year-old Dante, a name not inspired by the guy who wrote “The Inferno.” (At least it wasn’t a Cuban name I laugh when I see it: Usnavy—use-nah-vee. You don’t get it? U.S. Navy that patrolled off the coast of Cuba!)
It’s Thanksgiving and Lizet has found a means of going home (or what has become home) late on that day, the one celebrated with pollo and mashed potatoes. She’s managed to get herself into academic trouble. And simply wants a little TLC which is going to be hard to get when only two blocks away Ariel Hernandez is temporarily residing and where an army of media has collected and where every Cuban-American TV is turned on to what is happening. And where—you guessed it—Lizet’s mother has managed to get herself interviewed—and on TV!
Cubans love their TVs. Their telenovelas. Their news (that often isn’t). And they love to have their TVs on all day, their doors open and conversations (shoutings) over the TVs.
I know this because I walk by an apartment house twice a day with my two dogs. And I’ve experienced it many times before.
The author of this novel captures it all with dialogue that will make you laugh. And yet there is an underlying truth that isn’t funny about the situations that emerge in this wonderful novel.