Arturo and Alma Rivera lived a happy life in Mexico until their beautiful teenage daughter, Maribel, sustains a serious injury in an accident. Unsure if she'll ever be the same again, they migrate to Delaware, where Maribel will be able to attend a special school and hopefully begin her road to recovery. But America is not what the family thought it would be—Arturo’s job is brutal, Maribel doesn't seem to be making much progress in school, and Alma struggles with her new life and learning a new language.
The one bright spot is that the Riveras meet the Toro family, who came to the U.S. years ago to escape the destruction and violence in Panama. The Toros are more settled into their American lives, although Celia in particular longs to return home, at least for a visit. And when their teenage son, Mayor, who struggles with self-confidence in the shadow of his more athletic, popular older brother, sets eyes on Maribel for the first time, he finds himself completely in her thrall, and wants nothing more than to spend time with her, despite what others perceive as her challenges. As the bond between the two families grows stronger, it is tested by secrets and struggles.
The Book of Unknown Americans gives a powerful and moving glimpse into the immigrant experience for many Latin American people. In addition to the main characters, you’re given brief testimonials from other neighbors, each of whom came from a different Latin American country and are living in the same apartment building. This is a very captivating read.