Hi there, lovelies!
Today I bring you a review for one of my most anticipated releases of the year: Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon! ✨
I’m actually pretty delighted cause I wasn’t expecting to post today, but I actually managed to whip up this review quite quickly after finishing the book! WHO AM I??? 😱
But anyway, this one’s a bit on the shorter side but I hope y’all don’t mind! 🤗
First-generation American LatinX Liliana Cruz does what it takes to fit in at her new nearly all-white school. But when family secrets spill out and racism at school ramps up, she must decide what she believes in and take a stand.
Liliana Cruz is a hitting a wall—or rather, walls.
There’s the wall her mom has put up ever since Liliana’s dad left—again.
There’s the wall that delineates Liliana’s diverse inner-city Boston neighborhood from Westburg, the wealthy—and white—suburban high school she’s just been accepted into.
And there’s the wall Liliana creates within herself, because to survive at Westburg, she can’t just lighten up, she has to whiten up.
So what if she changes her name? So what if she changes the way she talks? So what if she’s seeing her neighborhood in a different way? But then light is shed on some hard truths: It isn’t that her father doesn’t want to come home—he can’t…and her whole family is in jeopardy. And when racial tensions at school reach a fever pitch, the walls that divide feel insurmountable.
But a wall isn’t always a barrier. It can be a foundation for something better. And Liliana must choose: Use this foundation as a platform to speak her truth, or risk crumbling under its weight.
In Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From, Jennifer De Leon unpacks the racism and white privilege in American schools, with a compelling biracial main character and weaving important themes of immigration and integration.
Liliana Cruz is her school’s best writer. When she’s not writing, she finds herself crafting miniature cardboard buildings or reading. When she gets the opportunity to be a part of the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO) program, her mom encourages to go. She has to navigate a new predominantly white environment, while grappling with the fact that her father has been deported.
At first, I greatly struggled to connect with Liliana’s voice. It’s very “stream of consciousness”-ish and I didn’t know how to feel about a non-black POC speaking with a “blaccent”. I still feel kinda weird about it, but I’m not the right person to discuss this issue because I’m not black, so maybe some people will interpret it differently.
However, after a while, I definitely grew to accept the narration and think it perfectly captured Liliana’s sophomore voice. It was also a great reflection of her current situation: moving to a brand new school and trying to adapt. Shortening her name to Lili, keeping to herself, struggling to make friends, and socialize.
The best part of De Leon’s writing is how she shows Lili’s growth. She isn’t perfect. She’s actually quite naïve. She knows where her parents are from. But she barely knows about the history of Guatemala and El Salvador and her parents’ journeys to arrive to America. She doesn’t know that her parents are undocumented, not being able to realize why they can’t hold down jobs. But in Liliana, the author tells us that it’s never too late to grow and evolve. To take a look at yourself and recognize the changes you must make to your behavior, and the mistakes that you’ve made. To learn and get educated, if you really set your mind to it.
I really appreciated the family dynamics and how the author really nailed Liliana’s relationship with her mother. She is the epitome of a Latinx parent. Soft but a hurricane when necessary. I also loved to see how close Lili was to her younger twin brothers. I adore healthy sibling relationships in books and this was no exception!
Unfortunately, I don’t think the supporting cast was too well-written. I wouldn’t say they were bland but there was a certain lack of depth that I was left wanting. I feel like there was incredible potential to expand characters like Rayshawn, Jade, Brianna, and Génesis. I just really wanted to learn more about them as people. I also had a bit of trouble distinguishing different teachers at the school, but I think that’s more of a “me” problem.
Regardless of some of some of my slight issues, this was still a fantastic story, so I’m really excited to read more from Jennifer De Leon and see how she grows as a writer. The way this novel tackled racism was masterful and so well-done, so because of that alone, it’s worth picking up.
Rating: 3.75 stars ⭐
Thank you to Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books for providing me an ARC of this book in exchange of an honest review and to Emmy @ Books Beyond Binaries for helping support this post!