Title: Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From
Author: Jennifer De Leon
Genre: YA Contemporary
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Publication Date: August 18, 2020
Rating: 4.5 / 5 Stars
Source: Digital ARC via NetGalley
Lilliana Cruz lives in Boston with her mother and twin brothers. Her dad has been gone for longer than ever before. He does odd jobs and has disappeared for work before, but never for this long and Liliana is worried. At school Liliana finds out she was accepted into the METCO program that buses kids from the city to a school in the suburbs. Not only does Liliana not want to leave her school, but she didn’t even know her parents signed her up for this program.
I really enjoyed this read. I think it is an important book to have on the shelves for teens and adults alike. Liliana is Latinx with one parent from Guatemala and the other from El Salvador. She has a unique experience growing up bilingual and with the rich influences of her family’s cultures. When she is accepted into the METCO program, the new school she attends is predominately white. This really brought things home for me, showing me things that I grow up with through the eyes of Liliana. I grew up in a small Midwestern, mostly white town so many of the things she was seeing and reacting to are things I experienced. High school kids each getting their own car at 16/17, kids leaving their bicycles and scooters out overnight without a second thought, kids with newspaper routes. I had all of that as a kid, and stories like this make me reflect on that privilege.
I love Liliana’s character. She is a writer at heart, an avid reader, and she loves making miniatures! I’ve always had a fascination with miniatures, but have always been too scared (or overwhelmed) to jump in and create some of my own. But I think that’s what I love most about her character, even when she has some apprehension, she gives the things she loves 100% of herself. When the METCO program plans to host an assembly for the school to discuss diversity, Liliana jumps right in and doesn’t stop until her vision is fulfilled.
Pick up this book, gift it to a friend, request it at your local library. It is so important to share these stories and the lessons they teach us.
Thank you so much to Simon & Schuester Children’s Publishing for having me on this tour!
“And you know what? I kinda didn’t need to actually talk to him to know what he’d say to me. He’d tell me to keep going. He would tell me to stay focused, give METCO a shot, dig in my heels at Westburg. You do you, Dad would have told me. So that’s what I decided to do. No matter what.”
-Jennifer De Leon, Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From
*Please note, this quote is from an ARC copy, so it may change in the final copy.
Synopsis: Fifteen-year-old Liliana is fine, thank you very much. It’s fine that her best friend, Jade, is all caught up in her new boyfriend lately. It’s fine that her inner-city high school is disorganized and underfunded. It’s fine that her father took off again—okay, maybe that isn’t fine, but what is Liliana supposed to do? She’s fifteen! Being left with her increasingly crazy mom? Fine. Her heathen little brothers? Fine, fine, fine. But it turns out Dad did leave one thing behind besides her crazy family. Before he left, he signed Liliana up for a school desegregation program called METCO. And she’s been accepted.
Being accepted into METCO, however, isn’t the same as being accepted at her new school. In her old school, Liliana—half-Guatemalan and half-Salvadorian—was part of the majority where almost everyone was a person of color. But now at Westburg, where almost everyone is white, the struggles of being a minority are unavoidable. It becomes clear that the only way to survive is to lighten up—whiten up. And if Dad signed her up for this program, he wouldn’t have just wanted Liliana to survive, he would have wanted her to thrive. So what if Liliana is now going by Lili? So what if she’s acting like she thinks she’s better than her old friends? It’s not a big deal. It’s fine.
But then she discovers the gutting truth about her father: He’s not on one of his side trips. And it isn’t that he doesn’t want to come home…he can’t. He’s undocumented and he’s been deported back to Guatemala. Soon, nothing is fine, and Lili has to make a choice: She’s done trying to make her white classmates and teachers feel more comfortable. Done changing who she is, denying her culture and where she came from. They want to know where she’s from, what she’s about? Liliana is ready to tell them.
Jennifer De Leon is an author, editor, speaker, and creative writing professor who lives outside of Boston. She is the editor of Wise Latinas: Writers on Higher Education, the 2015–2016 Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library, and a 2016–2017 City of Boston Artist-in-Residence. She is also the second recipient of the We Need Diverse Books grant. Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is her debut novel.
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