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Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Crucet

CrucetLizet Ramirez, the narrator of the novel Make Your Home Among Strangers, details her life during a year of emotional and physical changes for herself and for her family.

Lizet applies secretly to an elite northern school, is accepted, and decides to attend despite the wishes of her family. She enjoys so many of her college experiences - new friends, her first snow, and, eventually, some success in her studies. Lizet (“Liz” to her fellow college students, “El” to her Cuban friends) is the first member of her family to go to college, and she is fortunate to have a scholarship and work-study assistance. However, she does have difficulties with workload and cultural change.

In Miami, Lizet’s Cuban-American family struggles with changes in their lives. Her parents’ divorce, and her mother moves from Hialeah to Little Havana in Miami with Lizet’s older sister, Leidy, who is a young single mother with a new baby. Lizet’s father remains in Hialeah, estranged from the family and struggling financially. Lizet’s mother becomes involved, emotionally and then as a leader, in Madres Para Justicia, a group formed to prevent the deportation of Ariel Hernandez. Ariel is a young boy from Cuba whose mother died fleeing on a raft with him and whose father, still in Cuba, wants him back.

The book focuses on the struggles, worries, and guilt resulting from clashes of cultural and family relationships.  It also details the everyday life of Miami’s Cuban-American community and college life in a small town in upstate New York. Well-written dialogue, as well as realistic characters living through very human situations, make the story hard to put down.

Other similar and excellent books are the works of Cristina Henriquez, most recently The Book of Unknown Americans; Days of Awe by Achy Obejas; and How to Leave Hialeah, Crucet’s first book, which is an award-winning short story collection. 

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