Book review: Reyna Grande’s “The Distance Between Us”

Reyna Grande’s memoir The Distance Between Us (Atria) should come with a box of tissues.

Grande grew up in the 1970s in Iguala, Mexico, a small town whose mountain has a mysterious force on its other side that residents call El Otro Lado – the United States.

Grande’s parents left Reyna and her two older siblings behind with their grandparents so they could work at better paying jobs and build a new home in Iguala. But as Grande describes it, the separation took a toll on the family as the children live in squalor.

“… the banks lined with trash and debris floating in the water, the crumbling adobe houses, the shacks made of sticks, the children with worm-pregnant bellies running around with bare feet, the piles of drying horse dung littering the dirt road, the flea-bitten stray dogs lying under the shade of trees, flies hovering above them. But what I saw back then I saw through the eyes of a child – a child who had never been anywhere, a child who was still innocent enough to see past the things later in life she could not. What I saw the were the velvety mountains around us, the clear blue sky, the beautiful jacaranda trees covered in purple flowers, bougainvilleas crawling up fences, their dried magenta petals whirling in the wind. … I continued to think that there was beauty everywhere around us. … But when … I saw mothers and fathers strolling about holding hands with their children, I realized that it didn’t matter what I thought of Iguala. Without my parents here, it was a place of broken beauty.”

At age 10, Grande and her siblings crossed the border illegally and moved to Los Angeles to be with her parents. But life is just as tough there as her mother ignores her and father becomes abusive toward her and her siblings.

But her father also was her best motivator, emphasizing the importance of a good education. Grande earned good grades and became a top musician in her school’s marching band. Federal legislation in 1986 enabled her to become a legal citizen.

A teacher in junior college encouraged her to write – leading Grande to write this incredible book. Told in simple, easy to read – yet descriptive – prose, my heart broke as I read about all that Grande suffered through. The Distance Between Us is an inspirational book for young Latinos or anyone who has faced adversity. Just keep those tissues handy.

More about Reyna Grande:

Reyna Grande is the author of the novels Across a Hundred Mountains and Dancing with Butterflies.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Filed under 2012 Books, Book Reviews, Non-Fiction

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