on August 4th 2015
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When Lizet, the daughter of Cuban immigrants, secretly applies and is accepted to an ultra-elite college, her parents are furious at her decision to leave Miami. Just weeks before she's set to start school, her parents divorce and her father sells her childhood home, leaving Lizet, her mother, and Leidy-Lizet's older sister, a brand-new single mom-without a steady income and scrambling for a place to live.Amidst this turmoil, Lizet begins her first semester at Rawlings College, distracted by both the exciting and difficult moments of freshman year. But the privileged world of the campus feels utterly foreign, as does her new awareness of herself as a minority. Struggling both socially and academically, she returns to Miami for a surprise Thanksgiving visit, only to be overshadowed by the arrival of Ariel Hernandez, a young boy whose mother died fleeing with him from Cuba on a raft. The ensuing immigration battle puts Miami in a glaring spotlight, captivating the nation and entangling Lizet's entire family, especially her mother. Pulled between life at college and the needs of those she loves, Lizet is faced with difficult decisions that will change her life forever.
Lizet’s older sister Leidy graduated from high school and then took the next logical step. Her boyfriend hadn’t proposed yet so she went off birth control and got pregnant to try to force him to marry her.
Lizet’s response to this was to secretly apply to colleges and win a scholarship to an elite northern liberal arts school.
Guess whose decision infuriated her parents and was repeatedly called a betrayal?
Lizet was a star student at her old high school. She doesn’t realize that she has not been academically prepared until she is failing out of her first semester. She feels like she can’t tell anyone at home because it will prove that she shouldn’t have gone away and destroy their narrative that she is smart. Depressed and scared, she makes a surprise visit home at Thanksgiving only to find her mother obsessed with Ariel Hernandez, an Elian Gonzalez-type situation. A boy was found on a raft after his mother died on the way from Cuba. The boy’s Miami family has taken him in two blocks away from Lizet’s mom’s apartment. Her mom is a regular demonstrator against the government who is trying to return the boy to Cuba now. She is even changing her life story to make better TV. Lizet and Leidy don’t fit into this new narrative.
Away at school Lizet doesn’t fit in either. She doesn’t understand a world where she is supposed to use her family contacts to find an internship for the summer. She can’t afford not to get paid. She doesn’t want to speak for the Cuban community in discussions about the news out of Miami about Ariel. She doesn’t want people to know that her mother keeps appearing on TV.
Back in Miami, Leidy is trying to keep her mother grounded in reality and is failing. With her sister gone, she has no one to help her and when Lizet finds out she is furious with Leidy for keeping her in the dark.
I’ve never felt more like a white, northern, liberal arts school graduate than reading this book. It was hard for me to understand the motivations for anything Lizet’s family did.
This book captured the essence of moving away from home and then coming back to see your familiar surroundings with new eyes. It gets the feeling that you never quite fit back in the way you did before and it is awkward for everyone. Lizet resents being treated like an outsider and at the same time resents that no one acknowledges the changes that she is going through.