By Helen Thorpe
400 pages; Scribner
When she embarked on her galvanizing book, Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America , Helen Thorpe had a policy wonk's interest in immigration, leavened with her own "odd sense of dual identity" as someone who herself arrived in the United States as a child. As her eyes are slowly opened to the catch-22 aspects of American immigration law, ours are, too, and we become conscious of how achingly complex the whole question of who we punish for entering the country illegally really is. Her engaging protagonists, Yadira, Marisela, Clara, and Elissa, are the offspring of Mexican parents living in Colorado at or below the poverty line. All four finish high school with distinction and go on to college. But there's a profound dividing line: Clara and Elissa have papers; Yadira and Marisela are illegal. As the years go by, the consequences of being undocumented multiply: no getting on a plane ever, no driver's license, no financial aid, no good way to convert that degree into a profession. Without a nation, practically speaking, to return to, these are the limbo children. Thorpe intelligently drills away at the harsh reality of such facts—what should we do, deport half a family? Through the girls' heart-tugging struggles, Thorpe puts a human face on a frequently obtuse conversation, and in so doing takes us far beyond the political rhetoric.
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