Congolese immigrant Anaïs adjusts to her new home in Maine over the course of one school year.
Readers follow her progress in her letters home to her grandmother, who insists that she write in English and enumerate “one good thing about America” every day. Unsurprisingly, her letters feature an English language learner’s incomplete command of grammar and spelling; at the end of her first, Anaïs expresses her frustration: “Please let me use le français. I am very tired with English today.” Thus encouraging readers’ empathy, Freeman goes on to record, in her protagonist’s voice, a year that includes many comings and goings at the shelter where she lives with her mother and little brother and in her ELL classroom—but, sadly, not the arrival of her father or older brother, who are in hiding from the Congolese government, a situation that’s only vaguely explained to readers but a clear and ever present worry for Anaïs and her family. There are also the usual markers of an American school year: holiday observances, school projects, and friendship ups and downs. ELL teacher Freeman realistically populates Anaïs’ classroom with other immigrant children, including a Somali girl and an Iraqi boy, deftly disproving monolithic notions of both Africa and Islam. She expressly writes for an audience of English-speaking and presumably native-born Americans while articulating the hope that “one day soon…my students will write their own stories.”
A touching if incomplete fictional glimpse at one immigrant girl’s experience. (glossary) (Fiction. 8-12)