In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero. Henry Holt and Co: 2016.
I read In the Country We Love for the online book club I run through the Harry Potter Alliance as part of our Resist Readathon. We chose four books on various topics relevant to the resistance, and this was our choice for immigration.
Diane Guerrero is an actress from Orange is the New Black (which I haven’t watched but plan to) and Jane the Virgin (which I have watched and it’s fantastic). Her parents came to the United States from Colombia before she was born and struggled for years to gain citizenship. Diane’s parents were deported when she was 14 years old, coming home from school one day to find an empty home. No one from the government contacted her or checked in on her; it was like she didn’t even exist.
The book is a memoir about her struggles through adolescence and early adulthood without her parents, staying at various friends’ homes and going to a high school for the arts in Boston, occasionally visiting her parents in Colombia but feeling their relationships deteriorating with space and lost time. She then recounts her college days and beyond, her struggles with depression and self-harm, and finally, her decision to pursue acting that led to her great success. It was a captivating read with a lot of emotional punch.
My biggest critique of the book, however, was the writing. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The book was written with Michelle Burford, a celebrity ghostwriter who helps famous people write memoirs (for example, the recent Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles memoirs). It would be interesting to see how much of the writing belonged to each of these women… but come to think of it, you can probably easily figure it out. The writing had so many jarring tonal shifts in rapid succession, even within paragraphs and sentences. The diction would shift quickly between clean and captivating prose, quirky/snarky parenthetical asides, and attempted flowery, emotional phrases. You can tell that Burford tried to capture Diane’s voice, but it was inconstant and out-of-place when she did. This dissonance didn’t happen often, but it happened often enough for me to notice it and not like it.
But you don’t typically pick up these type of books for excellent prose anyway. The journey Diane goes on throughout the book is remarkable, and that’s the point. I enjoyed the way that she did not stray away from topics that many people are afraid to talk about – undocumented immigration, mental health, etc. It’s important that her story is out in the world. I will say that the chapters about self-harm and mental health were jarring. Nothing in the blurbs or synopsis suggested that Diane battled with depression, and she writes so vividly about self-harm that it was a shock to me as a reader. Yet that whole section didn’t transition in and out well; it felt like it was kind-of thrown into the middle of the book, like, “oh yeah, also this thing happened,” and it didn’t necessarily get fleshed out as much as it should have.
But her journey still came across well and the details of her various struggles formed an ultimately satisfying narrative, especially concerning her relationship with her mother, which was the best part of the book. It’s an important story to read and I’m glad I did. 3/5 stars.