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Common Read 2018: The Book of Unknown Americans

Cristina HenrĂ­quez

Photo taken by Michael Lionstar and used by his permission

Reviews and Reactions

"The Book of Unknown Americans," by Cristina Henríquez

“...a quiet, unassuming novel that ravels slowly, quickens without warning, spins into high drama and leaves you in thrall to its vivid characters and its author’s sure hand.”

Book review, The Washington Post, June 14 2014, by Marie Arana


Here, Love is Never Free

After you’ve experienced Alma and Arturo’s optimism in the face of almost mythical turns of fate, their story will inhabit you for long after you’ve closed the pages.”

Book review, Los Angeles Review of Brooks, July 26, 2014, by Priyanka Kumar

Homesick Strangers Among Us

"'Unknown Americans' is at its most powerful not when it’s giving us a documentary like look at immigrant life in one Delaware (yes, Delaware) town, but when it’s chronicling the lives of its two central characters... It is Maribel and Mayor’s star-crossed love that lends this novel an emotional urgency, and it’s the story of their families that gives us a visceral sense of the magnetic allure of America, and the gaps so many immigrants find here between expectations and reality."

Book review, The New York Times, July 10 2014, by Michiko Kakutani



This year's common read is The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez. The Book of Unknown Americans was named a Best Book of the Year by Mother Jones, Oprah.comSchool Library Journal, and BookPage. It is a New York Times and Washington Post Notable Book, and an NPR Great Read. Unknown Americans focuses on the experience of Latinx immigrants to the United States. Henríquez tracks the Rivera family as they cross the southern border and settle in a Delaware apartment building, and the community that surrounds them in their new home. Shifting narrative perspectives give the reader a broader window into the immigrant experience, and through this technique Henríquez skillfully avoids pushing a "single story" of immigration. True to its mission, Henríquez’s book sheds light on the stories of the “unknown Americans” she writes about, while telling the compelling, multi-faceted tale of a family's journey and the community surrounding them.

About the author

In addition to The Book of Unknown Americans, Henriquez is also the author of The World In Half (a novel), and Come Together, Fall Apart: A Novella and Stories, which was a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection.

Her stories have been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Glimmer Train, The American Scholar, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, and AGNI, along with the anthology This is Not Chick Lit: Original Stories by America’s Best Women Writers.

Cristina’s non-fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, The Oxford American, and Preservation, as well as in the anthologies State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America and Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary: Women Writers Reflect on the Candidate and What Her Campaign Meant.

She was featured in Virginia Quarterly Review as one of “Fiction’s New Luminaries,” has been a guest on National Public Radio, and is a recipient of the Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation Award, a grant started by Sandra Cisneros in honor of her father.

Cristina earned her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She lives in Illinois.


Curious about the author? These sources will help you learn more about Cristina Henríquez

Cristina Henríquez: The author's website

Gale Biography in ContextA quick overview of Henríquez's background and work

Cristina Henríquez on Immigration, Detention, and Missing Names: A 2017 interview with Henríquez in The New Yorker

The Unknown Americans Project

One of my hopes for The Book of Unknown Americans was that it might tell stories people don't usually hear. And now, another hope: that we will all tell out #UnknownAmerican stories. Where did you or your family come from? What is your life like now? We'll create a chorus and make our voices known. 

--Cristina Henríquez

Henríquez created the Unknown Americans Project website as a place for people to share their own journeys to the United States. People can submit their stories and images on the website, with the goal of spreading the voices of #UnknownAmericans like Henríquez's characters.


These sources will help you familiarize yourself with themes, historical context, and references in The Book of Unknown Americans

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Latinos and Latinas in the United States MH Reference, E184.S75 O97 2005

Latino politics in America: community, culture, and interests MH Stacks, E184.S75 G367 2012 

Oxford Companion to United States History MH Reference E174 .O94 2001, also available in ebook version

Latina/o/x & Latin American Studies LibGuide 

The Author On Campus

Cristina Henriquez will be speaking on campus on September 4th, 2018. 7pm in Chapin Auditorium

Further reading


The World in HalfCristina Henríquez

Come Together, Fall Apart: a novella and stories, Cristina Henríquez

The King is always above the people: stories, Daniel Alarcón

How the Garcia girls lost their accents, Julia Alvarez

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Interpreter of Maladies: storiesJhumpa Lahiri

Native Speaker, Chang-rae Lee


MHC Accessibility Barriers Form