Book Review: Tell Us We're Home by Marina Budhos

What does it feel like to be different? This a question explored by many YA authors. In Marina Budhos's book Tell Us We're Home, this question is made central to the book by its three main characters: Maria, Jaya, and Lola.

Each of these girls are not only "different" because they're going through typical adolescent changes, but because they're the children of immigrants. Their mothers, like so many in our country, work as maids or nannies in the homes of their wealthy suburb neighbors. With these three main characters, Budhos ultimately describes three very different approaches and reactions to feeling "different," even when the characters are facing very similar circumstances. Simply put, there is no "one" immigrant experience or "one" reaction to being told that you're not welcome in a school or a town or a country.

Each girl has their own story and Budhos gives each story the time and attention necessary to develop. I definitely gravitated toward one girl more than the others. But by the end of the story, I understood each of the girls any why they had to react the way they did to the circumstances of their individual lives.

The more that I think about this book, and I have definitely done a lot of thinking since reading it, the more that I see the plight of the "new" American represented in this book. I do not live in an area of the country where there is a lot of immigration, but there is a large population of Somalian refugees in a nearby city (about an hour away). Every year since this group of refugees has come to live in our state, I hear my students (again, not really living anywhere near these people) making more and more ignorant comments about these people. Why? Because they're different. All of the observations and complaints break down to that one category: Difference is scary.

How are we ever going to learn to live together in peace in our country if we don't begin to realize that there are possibilities in difference and that it's not necessarily a horrible thing to be exposed to difference? And, in books like Buddhos's, it becomes obvious that the differences that we sometimes perceive as threatening are pretty surface. Underneath, teens just want to fit in. They want to find commonalities, not differences and they want to feel that they're home in their own country.

This conversation is larger than this one book. But, this book is a great catalyst for starting that conversation or the thought process that may lead to seeing this issue through a different lens. I know that I've been thinking about it regularly ever since I read this book. Surely, that's a mark of a great read!