In The Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero with Michelle Burford
I want to start this review with a discussion of the story Ms. Guerrero tells. It is a fascinating, interesting, sweet and inspirational story. You likely know Ms. Guerrero from her roles on Jane the Virgin and Orange is the New Black – she’s tiny, Colombian and talented as hell. A couple of years ago, she shared that her parents had been deported after authorities learned they were undocumented. This left Ms. Guerrero – then 14 and a US citizen – to essentially fend for herself.
We learn about her childhood, which included fears that deportation might come. But reading it happen – and recognizing that the US government either didn’t know or didn’t care that their actions left a 14-year-old with nowhere to live – infuriated me. I was pissed on her behalf, mad at an immigration system that does this to thousands of families ever year. I was also impressed with her ability to finish high school, enroll in college, and eventual deal with unaddressed issues that her parents’ deportation had created inside her.
We also learn about how she made her way into acting as well as her decision to get publicly involved in immigration reform and other political issues. It’s a compelling tale but it wasn’t an entirely positive reading experience, as the second half of my review will explain.
When you were in school, did you ever have the dreaded ‘group project?’ You know, the one where someone wouldn’t do anything, someone would do too much, and the rest of the group just tried to get a word in? And did any of those group projects involve a group PAPER? The way Ms. Guerrero’s story is told feels a bit like a group paper where one person did most of the writing, but someone else insisted on interjecting in each section. And their interjections might even be good (or perhaps better than the bulk of the paper), but they just don’t … flow? That’s how this book reads.
I didn’t realize until the acknowledgments that Ms. Guerrero had a co-author assist her. Ms. Burford has assisted a few other memoirists, so she seems like a good fit for this project; unfortunately, this book is a case where the two authors just don’t seem to have found a good flow or fit. I don’t know how much of this is Ms. Guerrero’s work and how much is Ms. Burford’s; did Ms. Guerrero tell her the story and Ms. Burford write it? Did Ms. Guerrero write it but Ms. Burford filled in some of the information to build out a longer story? Something else entirely? I don’t know, but I feel like it could have benefited from some stronger editing and cohesion.
There are certain things that come up – such as Ms. Guerrero’s depression and the serious ramifications – seemingly out of the blue, and are handled in a couple of pages without a lot of exploration. And I’m not saying she needs to provide more detail than she does; it’s more that the detail provided is so specific and jarring that it stands out. There’s no build or come down – it’d be like watching Law & Order with 30 seconds of Hairspray cut in, then returning right back to Law & Order. There’s nothing off or bad about either, but you’d probably be wondering what the hell that was about. Many chapters left me feeling that way.