Em & M’s Book Nook: Immigrant Stories



Refugee By Alan Grantz

Refugee has three main characters from three completely different timelines. Josef is a Jewish boy in the 1930s desperately trying to to escape Nazi Germany by boarding a ship to the other side of the world. Isabel, a Cuban girl in the 1990s, lives a world full of riots and is escaping on a raft, desperately aiming to reach America. Mahoumd is a Syrian boy in 2015 whose home was bombed, leaving his family to try and go towards Europe. Three teenagers who are all embarking on an intense journey towards new beginnings, connect and intertwine between the reader’s eyes. 

I loved how this novel gave such important representation, while also presenting them as  average kids that anyone can relate to, decades and cultures apart. I also loved how all the stories connect with one another in the novel, which made the conclusion all the more special. The substance and the topic is heavy, but the way that Alan Grantz writes is addictive, and it will keep you flipping the pages until the last sentence. 

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani 

The Night Diary is a story that follows Nisha, who has no idea where she belongs,  in 1947. Her father says that it is too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, leading her family to become refugees overnight. Traveling by foot, Nisha, her father and her brother risk being killed everyday for simply crossing a border to find a new home. She cannot imagine leaving her homeland, even as it rips apart in front of her. 

What I really enjoyed about this story is how it was told through the letters Nisha would write to her deceased mother. I thought that it really added a unique perspective that I haven’t really read from before. This novel was also pretty short, and I feel like with how well it was written you can almost inhale it in one sitting. Once again, the author does not shy away from extremely heavy topics and scenes, but this is an extremely important book for anyone, and I love how it is directed towards middle-grade readers. 


Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon 

Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From takes on the perspective of main character Liliana who is a first-generation Latinx American. When she is given the opportunity to attend a nearly all-white prestigious Boston high school, personal racism experiences start to occur causing Lilliana to feel extremely out of place. Conflicted with the choice of whether to really stand up for what she believes is right, or to just remain quiet, she questions everything like never before. 

While this book doesn’t have a direct narrative about being a refugee like the other two in the fiction category do, this book still brings up important and relevant conversations such as what it means to have a father who is no longer a part of your family because he was deported. Even more importantly it discusses how teenagers, and their generation will be the ones to change how the people view individuals that are different from them. This is a very timely and relevant read for all ages, not just the YA audience.


McCleish: First of all, I LOVE the cover of this book. I know, I know, don’t judge a book by its cover and all of that, but what De Leon puts in the inside is just as good.  As a debut I didn’t know what to expect, but I was extremely impressed with the representation. Liliana is half Guatemalan and half El Salvadorian. Through her eyes we see the impact that deportation has on a family.  From the depression that her mother faces, to the long hours at the YMCA for her brothers, to Liliana’s struggles with identity.  We see her attempt to assimilate into a new school, even going as far as shortening her name to Lili to be more accepted by the dominant culture. However, Liliana begins to find her voice, and begins to fully embrace her culture. She is a character we want to root for. She may not want others to ask her where she is from, but she herself will never forget.    



Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card by Sara Saedi

“Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card,”chronicles the life of Sara Saedi, who immigrated to America in 1982 from Iran. The readers learn about how she and her family learned how to transform themselves into “real Americans.” Now an accomplished author, Sara takes us back in time to her hardest moments of becoming a legal citizen, as well as some moments in her past that an average person might not even think about being challenging. It is an eye-opening experience which demonstrates what immigrants witness and are a part of. 

What I enjoyed most about this story is Sara’s voice. She used a lot of humor in her storytelling, as well as breaking down her complex emotions into something that all readers can relate to, even those who aren’t immigrants. She included several diary entries from her teenage years, which was another element that helped me connect with her narration. I think that Sara’s story will not only stick with me for a long time, but also inspire me to do things that I deem as impossible. 

McCleish: I agree with Emily, in regards to Sara’s voice. She was so relatable and her narrative, although it dealt with some tough topics, was funny and entertaining to read. I also enjoyed the incorporation of diary entries.  It really helped us to see who Sara was as a little girl and how she has grown over time. Sara’s story also brings to the light how difficult it can be to fully achieve legalization in America and how scared she was to reveal her status to her friends.  This constant concern loomed over her throughout most of her young life.  Readers are able to empathize and understand that the process to becoming a citizen legally isn’t always as easy as one may think. 


This Land is Our Land by Linda Barrett Osborne 

This Land is Our Land is a novel giving readers a huge timeline of when immigration started in The U.S, up until present day. It has beautiful quotes from real life refugees and immigrants alike, as well as including large fully colored pictures throughout to keep the reader engaged. 

I think this book was wonderfully executed. You can definitely see the care that the author and publishers put in to make sure they told the story of thousands of immigrants, even if most didn’t get directly quoted. I really enjoyed how much history they wrapped into a book less than 200 pages, while still keeping it easy to understand and grasp the content provided. I recommend this to anyone who wants to start their reading journey on immagraiton, as it is the perfect guide. 


My (Underground) American Dream by Julissa Arce

My (Underground) American Dream is a detailed memoir of Julissa Arce’s life of coming to the United States undocumented, to becoming a Wallstreet Executive. You follow her story from her own eyes, focusing in on small moments and bigger moments alike. 

Julissa’s journey of becoming a documented citizen is not the only story she tells. She also shares with readers how her father slowly turned into an abusive alcoholic, and other difficult tales. Though Julissa is not a professional writer, her way of storytelling is exquisite and sparks extreme emotion. If you are one who enjoys memoirs this is not a book you want to miss.