By: Angie Cruz
Published: September 3rd, 2019
From the Cover:
Fifteen-year-old Ana Cancion never dreamed of moving to America, the way the girls she grew up with in the Dominican countryside did. But when Juan Ruiz proposes and promises to take her to New York City, she has to say yes. It doesn’t matter that he is twice her age, that there is no love between them. Their marriage is an opportunity for her entire close-knit family to eventually immigrate. So on New Year’s Day, 1965, Ana leaves behind everything she knows and becomes Ana Ruiz, a wife confined to a cold six-floor walk-up in Washington Heights. Lonely and miserable, Ana hatches a reckless plan to escape. But at the bus terminal, she is stopped by Cesar, Juan’s free-spirited younger brother, who convinces her to stay.
As the Dominican Republic slides into political turmoil, Juan returns to protect his family’s assets, leaving Cesar to take care of Ana. Suddenly, Ana is free to take English lessons at a local church, lie on the beach at Coney Island, see a movie at Radio City Music Hall, go dancing with Cesar, and imagine the possibility of a different kind of life in America. When Juan returns, Ana must decide once again between her heart and her duty to her family.
This is a compelling coming-of-age story that transports you back in time to a place you may have never visited, and tells the story of a young woman’s life you could never have imagined. As young girls we are told stories of princes and princesses, true love, and happily ever afters. As a young girl, Ana was told stories about America and the opportunities that awaited in a land so far from her Dominican countryside home. When she finally gets an opportunity to live this dream, it is not without some compromises — she must leave her entire family behind and follow an older man who is to be her husband. As she comes to terms with this new life of hers, she undergoes an incredible transformation. The character development in Ana was my favorite part of this book. Cruz was able to adeptly capture an immigrant experience narrative that she later mentions is reflective of her own mother’s journey.
One of the things I did not enjoy about this book was the seemingly predictable plot points. There was the stereotype of the abusive immigrant husband, which was further instigated by Ana’s portrayed loneliness and fear that led her into the arms of her husband’s brother. Another issue I had with the book was that Ana just so happened to be in the middle of some of the biggest events in history. She sold her homemade Dominican food in the 1964 World’s Fair in Manhattan. She also witnessed the assassination of Malcolm X from her apartment window… literally (which is not even to mention the subtle racist undertones presented by the characters like Ana who cannot get over her Dominican husband’s black skin tone in comparison to his “more attractive” younger brother who has lighter skin). To me, these historical details felt obtrusive to the narrative of Ana’s life, and lacked sufficient commentary to make them feel like genuine events in the plot. The only historical details that I felt were genuine and relevant were those of the revolution back home in the Dominican Republic, and how these events affected Ana, her husband, and their families back home. I found myself wanting more from this part of the plot, especially in regards to how this affected Ana’s immigrant experience and her view of the concepts of “home” and “freedom.”
Overall, I enjoyed Ana’s character development, and felt excited to open my mind to diverse life experiences I had never read about. I also enjoyed Cruz’s obvious connection to the story via her mother’s immigrant experience. However, I found this novel fell victim to common stereotypes and disingenuous/irrelevant historical details. It’s an enjoyable book, but manage your expectations.