ok a teensy bit delayed with our bookclub I know, but I think the chaos we’re in gives me a bit of an excuse. #mybad
For (last month’s) pick, we selected Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capo Crucet. It is her first novel (though she recently had a second published). And unfortunately, she made the news because at recent lecture at a college, some students couldn’t handle discussing racism and took to burning her book (!) as protest. I mean, wtf. It was appalling and immediately I wanted to support this author by lifting up her work. Doing so, though, is not difficult because wow wow wow–what a complicated, culturally apt, gut-punching story Jennine has provided us.
Make Your Home Among Strangers is about Lizet, a Cuban-American girl venturing off to college. She is a Miami girl, with Cuban parents, growing up without a lot of resources. Her decision to go off to college (in the east coast) is seen as a betrayal by her father and met with confusion by the rest of her family (mom, sister, and boyfriend). When she moves to college, she is immediately struck by how different she is from all her classmates and she’s bothered by how quickly they exoticize her. Things get more complicated when she visits home for Thanksgiving right when Ariel Hernandez, a young Cuban boy, is rescued at sea and the local community rallies to allow him to stay in Miami.
First, I would love to know how ladies from Miami feel about this book? Did it bring up any buried feelings about what it meant to be Cuban-American when Elian Gonzalez was returned to Cuba? I still remember this case and I was a high schooler in Indiana. I can’t imagine how thick the tension must have been at that time.
Aside from touching on a cultural moment, Jennine does a fantastic job at exposing what it is like to be a first-gen college student. Just how much it feels like everything you’re doing is a stumble. How hard it is to fit in with people that seem to never want for anything. How you walk this line of not wanting to want to fit it, but at the same time feel a longing to just be “normal” and accepted by your peers. I also loved how Lizet’s family aren’t supportive of her education and goals. I mean, I don’t like that that is how they are, but I like it for the story. For many people, parents are focused on surviving. Goals like getting a degree and having a professional career, seem almost ludicrous to some. And even if they are encouraging of those goals, many don’t understand the work it entails and so they struggle with supporting it. There was such a cultural rift between Lizet and her own family–it was painful. The idea that getting married straight after high school should be her next aspiration was gut-wrenching. I really loved that her family weren’t these pious immigrants that sacrificed themselves for her–they were complicated, messy people, which I’m sure resonated with many of us reading this story.
The other aspect I felt was brutal, was the guilt Lizet feels in deciding to go to school. That her father calls it a betrayal, that her sister begs her to not leave her–ugh, that was painful. I felt so bad for Lizet and her sister. Logically, I knew that getting her degree and taking the internship were best for her. But I felt so sad for her sister to feel abandoned and alone. Yet, how many of us have had to decide between staying close to home and supporting family because it feels like it is the right thing to do versus leaving and working towards something others may not understand?
Jennine also nailed the moment when you finally realize something is your calling. When Lizet is in the lab and just nails the testing process and does better than any of the other students. How she feels like she’s flying and just loses herself in work, that is so special. Finding a passion in life is so important and college is an avenue that really allows for that exploration (I fully understand that is a privilege to be able to do that). The themes of imposter syndrome that Jennine showcases throughout Lizet’s college experience is so well-done. As I was reading it, I kept yelling “take the internship!!” But that second-guessing is almost natural in a situation like that–plus the humiliation she goes through when they accuse her of plagiarism? How she literally has no support, no advocates? How they administrators tried to act as saviors–infuriating.
Overall, Jennine does an incredibly good job at laying bare what many Latinas experience when they go off to college–the tension and frustration at home; the loneliness and discomfort at school; the second-guessing about whether you’re doing the right thing for yourself or being selfish in doing so…so well-written.
What did you think of the story?