The Distance Between Us, Reyna Grande’s affecting account of coming to the United States as an undocumented immigrant at age nine, is one of many such stories that unfold every day, out of the sight of most Americans. Thankfully, numerous other books, in addition to Grande’s memoir, highlight the struggles of migrants. Below are some titles that pair well with The Distance Between Us, which will be taken up by Alta’s California Book Club on November 19.
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The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir (2017), by Thi Bui. Making imaginative use of the graphic novel as a literary form, Bui, who lives in Berkeley, chronicles her family’s escape from war-torn Vietnam and their struggle to be welcomed in a new country.
The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border (2018), by Francisco Cantú. In this memoir, a third-generation Mexican American reflects on his often-harrowing experiences during his time as a Border Patrol agent, seeking not to justify the system but to expose its cruelties.
In the Country We Love: My Family Divided (2016), by Diane Guerrero with Michelle Burford. Best known for her acting in the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black, Guerrero relates how her life was torn apart at age 14 after her undocumented immigrant parents were deported back to Colombia.
Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions (2017), by Valeria Luiselli. Drawn from the questions she asks unaccompanied child migrants while working as a volunteer interpreter at a federal immigration court, Luiselli’s book prompts her own inquiries into the notion of belonging.
Lost Children Archive (2019), by Valeria Luiselli. Inspired by her work helping migrants, Luiselli here crafts an experimental novel—unfolding as a cross-country odyssey—that allows her to dig deeper into the plight of child refugees.
The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life (2017), by Lauren Markham. A writer based in Berkeley, Markham puts a human face on so-called unaccompanied alien children, detailing the lives of twin boys who leave violence-ravaged El Salvador and eventually settle in Oakland.
The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail (2013), by Óscar Martínez. Many Central American immigrants travel to the U.S. border by riding, dangerously, on the tops of freight trains. Martínez, a Salvadoran journalist, tells the stories of some of these individuals, and in doing so makes the reader care about them.
The Devil’s Highway: A True Story (2004), by Luis Alberto Urrea. Considered a modern classic, Urrea’s book examines and condemns the immigration policy that allowed 14 men to die trying to cross the border in 2001 with a dozen other migrants.
Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen (2018), by Jose Antonio Vargas. Vargas, a journalist who in 2011 went public about being an undocumented immigrant, shows how he and millions of others are forced to live in precarious circumstances, forever threatened with deportation. Vargas, who now lives in Berkeley, founded the organization Define American.
Unaccompanied (2017), by Javier Zamora. Many accounts of immigration take shape in novels and works of narrative nonfiction. In his first book, Zamora—born in El Salvador in 1990—taps into the visceral power of poetry to explore his story of crossing into the United States, without his family, at age nine.