Reyna Grande on Her Early Love of Stories

In Mexico, she couldn’t afford books as a child. But the future author discovered the public library after immigrating to the United States.

reyna grande's favorite books

Reyna Grande has loved stories since she was a child growing up in rural Mexico. She wasn’t able to partake of the world of books, however, until she immigrated to the United States. She recounts her ordeal of crossing the border in her memoir The Distance Between Us, which will be taken up by the California Book Club on November 19. You can join the club for free here. Grande has written other books, too, and she has plenty of titles to recommend to readers. The book club reached her by email.

Your experience as an immigrant fueled your desire to become a writer. But did you have an earlier interest in writing as a child?
In Mexico, I had no interest in being a writer because I didn’t know I could be one. The thought never crossed my mind. My family was so poor, we couldn’t afford books, so I didn’t read much, let alone write much. But there was something important that happened in Mexico that would add to my interest in writing later in life: I fell in love with stories. Since we didn’t own a television, our source of entertainment was the radio. I would listen to radionovelas (soap operas) and story hour. I truly believe that those stories on the radio helped me to develop my imagination by forcing me to visualize the story in a way television doesn’t. When I immigrated to the U.S. and I discovered the public library, I would borrow audiobooks, and in that way, I remembered listening to the stories on the radio with my grandmother.

What other books about immigration would you recommend, and why?
In fiction, I love Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, by Laila Lalami, because it gave me a glimpse into another immigration experience, from Morocco to Spain. It showed me how universal the immigrant experience can be. Another book that impacted me in the same way was The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka. Two recent favorites are Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek and Dominicana, by Angie Cruz. In nonfiction, I love The Devil’s Highway, by Luis Alberto Urrea, Tell Me How It Ends, by Valeria Luiselli, Enrique’s Journey, by Sonia Nazario, The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life, by Lauren Markham, and Unaccompanied, by Javier Zamora.

What recent books about California would you recommend to readers?
I recommend Children of the Land, by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, Mañana Means Heaven, by Tim Z. Hernandez, The Barbarian Nurseries, by Héctor Tobar, and Palm Frond with Its Throat Cut, by Vickie Vértiz. This book isn’t recent, but I must mention it because it was the first book I ever received as a gift, and it was a book that reflected my version of California: The Moths and Other Stories, by Helena María Viramontes.

What have you been reading lately?
I’ve hardly had time to read for pleasure. But I managed to squeeze in some time to read Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I read it in one sitting and was up until 5 a.m.

You must be working on another book—what’s it about?
I am actually working on three books, all under contract, with Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and HarperCollins. This has never happened to me before! I am finishing up the last draft of my novel set during the Mexican-American War (1846–48). It is a war story, love story, immigration story all in one. I began to write this book in 2014 but kept putting it away again and again. The quarantine forced me to finally finish it. I went from writing 200 pages in six years to writing another 200 pages in six months. In the spring, I was asked to do the young reader’s adaptation of the bestselling book by Joshua Davis Spare Parts, the story of four undocumented youth who win a national robotics competition (and beat MIT). I’ve turned in a draft of the book to my editor. Lastly, I am coediting an anthology by and about undocumented (or formerly undocumented) Americans called Somewhere We Are Human: An Anthology on Migration, Survival, and New Beginnings. We are currently taking submissions, so if anyone would like to contribute, please go to

To register for Alta’s California Book Club for free, click here.

John McMurtrie edits for McSweeney’s Publishing and the literary travel magazine Stranger’s Guide.
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