The Secret Side of Empty
Author: Maria E. Andreu
Published: March 11, 2014 by Running Press
Summary: As a straight-A student with a budding romance and loyal best friend, M.T.’s life seems as apple-pie American as her blondish hair and pale skin. But M.T. hides two facts to the contrary: her full name of Monserrat Thalia and her status as an undocumented immigrant.
But it’s harder to hide now that M.T.’s a senior. Her school’s National Honor Society wants her to plan their trip abroad, her best friend won’t stop bugging her to get her driver’s license, and all everyone talks about is where they want to go to college. M.T. is pretty sure she can’t go to college, and with high school ending and her family life unraveling, she’s staring down a future that just seems empty. In the end, M.T. will need to trust herself and others to stake a claim in the life that she wants.
Author Maria E. Andreu draws from her personal experience as a (formerly) undocumented immigrant to explore an issue that affects over one million children in the U.S. But while the subject matter is timely, it is M.T.’s sharp, darkly funny voice and longing for a future that makes this story universally poignant.
My Review: In the last year, I have met many people who have told me that they were or are undocumented immigrants. Immigration reform is a hot topic in politics right now, and I can’t help but wonder if people are thinking about others in terms of their humanity. I’ve become increasingly heavy-hearted as I have listened to speeches about immigration, and I longed to learn more about the topic. After searching news articles, research studies, statistics, and government websites, I felt that I needed more story, and so I picked up this book from the library. It received excellent reviews, and I understand why. The author draws upon her personal experiences as a formerly undocumented immigrant, and the narrator, M. T., feels very real. I learned about some of the struggles undocumented immigrants experience, and I am grateful for all that I learned from this book. M. T. deals with other complex issues beyond her immigrant status—relationship issues, domestic abuse, and contemplations of suicide. There is so much to discuss regarding the text. I loved the book and am so glad I found it. I highly recommend it.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This is a fantastic book to discuss undocumented immigrants with students. It would be wonderful to help students consider aspects of immigration reform and explore other perspectives. The author is featured in this article about Donald Trump.
Discussion Questions: How might the author’s perspective have influenced her work?; What do you learn about immigration? How does this influence, change, or solidify your beliefs?; How does M. T.’s relationship with Nate evolve? Do you agree with everything he did?; Did M. T. make the right decision to leave home? Why or why not?
Flagged Passage: I will always be a stranger everywhere. With my parents, I am too American. With Americans, I am a spectator with my nose pressed against their windowpanes, watching their weird rituals and rites of passage, never quite understanding them completely. A little chunk of me will always be a stranger everywhere, different chunks of stranger in different situations. (p. 98).
Read This Book If You Loved: Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez, Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos, Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok, Illegal by Bettina Restrepo