Just Like Us by Helen Thorpe
This was another choice for my office’s equity and social justice book club. I’m really happy that it was picked, as it covers the topic of immigration to the US. Specifically, it focuses on the challenges those without documentation face as they make their way out of high school and try to figure out what options are available. I think I would have preferred a book written by one of these women, though, which factors into my three-star rating.
Author Ms. Thorpe is a journalist who was also married to the mayor of Denver while writing her book. This is relevant because much of the book focuses on the broader policy and political issues focused on during the immigration debate, and her husband often found himself (or put himself) in the middle of those discussions. Ms. Thorpe decided to follow four young women from their junior year of high school until they were in their early 20s. Two of the four women had documentation; two did not.
Some of the challenges are ones you could probably imagine – how do you go to college, for example, if you have very little money, don’t qualify for any financial aid, AND have to pay out-of-state tuition since you can’t prove residency? But others might not be top of mind to everyone – like how to handle the stress of knowing your parents could be arrested and deported at any point.
I appreciate the skill and research necessary to write this type of book that covers nearly seven years in the lives of many people, but I also think that people can best tell their own stories. Additionally, I often find myself annoyed with this book as Ms. Thorpe bends over backwards to appear neutral and give time to ‘both sides,’ but the ‘other side’ of the debate is often quite hateful. I do think there are real policy issues to be sorted out about how to address the needs of those who are here without documentation, but so many people who are so vocal about it seem to have really screwed up ideas about immigrants in general, and (in the case of at least one prominent politician), choose to think of their own immigrant ancestors as totally different, since they were European.
I also found myself cringing at times when she would use the term ‘illegal’ to describe the women or their families. I fall firmly in the camp that no person is ‘illegal.’ And of course I cringed whenever the author spoke of or with Tom Tancredo. Because ugh. That guy.
I do think I got a lot out of this book, but reading it also made me more interested in reading Diane Guerrero’s “In the Country We Love.”