Lizet Ramirez, the first in her Cuban immigrant family to attend college, must learn to navigate academia’s culture of privilege alone as her family breaks apart.
It's Thanksgiving Day 1999. Overwhelmed with the microaggressions inherent in being one of the few nonwhite students at an elite East Coast university, Lizet saves her work-study wages for a surprise trip home to Little Havana, Florida, to see her family. But this is also the same day that Ariel Hernandez, a 5-year-old Cuban boy who saw his mother die on a raft as they escaped to America, arrives in the state. Advocating for Ariel’s well-being quickly becomes Lizet’s mother’s raison d’être. The twin narratives play off each other in a masterful way: the battle for Ariel to remain in America echoes Lizet’s own story of the breakup of her family and her formation of identity on an epic scale. Here, perfectly articulated through Lizet, is the experience of being a first-generation child of immigrants in America—the lack of cultural capital, the casually racist comments of fellow students, the facade of campus diversity. “I’d yet to see a Latino professor on the Rawlings campus, though I knew from pictures in the school’s guidebook that there were a few somewhere,” Lizet wistfully notes. Here, too, is worldbuilding at its finest—Crucet crafts a rich setting and supporting characters to go along with her astute cultural analysis. Yet, while it's clear what Lizet doesn’t want—expulsion, her boyfriend—what she wants is less clear. Perhaps this is the point; she's a college freshman. But above all, in Lizet's story, we have a thrilling, deeply fulfilling journey of a young woman stepping into her own power.
This debut novel from Crucet (How to Leave Hialeah, 2009) heralds the birth of a talented novelist to watch.