Blurb from Goodreads
Sixteen-year-old Ana has just moved to New Jersey from Argentina for her Junior year of high school. She’s a poet and a lover of language—except that now, she can barely understand what’s going on around her, let alone find the words to express how she feels in the language she’s expected to speak.
All Ana wants to do is go home—until she meets Harrison, the very cute, very American boy in her math class. And then there’s her new friend Neo, the Greek boy she’s partnered up with in ESL class, who she bonds with over the 80s teen movies they are assigned to watch for class (but later keep watching together for fun), and Altagracia, her artistic and Instagram-fabulous friend, who thankfully is fluent in Spanish and able to help her settle into American high school.
But is it possible that she’s becoming too American—as her father accuses—and what does it mean when her feelings for Harrison and Neo start to change? Ana will spend her year learning that the rules of English may be confounding, but there are no rules when it comes to love.
With playful and poetic breakouts exploring the idiosyncrasies of the English language, Love in English tells a story that is simultaneously charming and romantic, while articulating a deeper story about what it means to become “American.”
When a book opens with a giant disclaimer as this does, one has to wonder if there’s been some sort of controversy in the lead up to its publication. I requested an ARC of this book based on the blurb alone; in fact I’d never heard of the author nor the book until I read the Harper360 YA newsletter that gets sent out to bloggers. And I loved the blurb so made my request…
But before I discuss the book let’s get to that big old disclaimer.
In it the author discusses how the main character of Love in English shares a similar backstory to her life… but the main character of Love in English has a much simplified backstory.
According to the author her parents moved from Spain to Argentina when they were both toddlers and thusly grew up in Argentina along with the extended families of both. Her parents moved to the USA during her mother’s pregnancy but the author happened to be born in Spain because her mother was visiting there for a number of weeks while pregnant. Soon after her birth she moved to the USA with her mum (with a visitor’s visa rather than full documentation) and aged 6 the author visited Argentina with her mum for a funeral but could not get back to the USA. Two years later at the age of 8 the author crossed the US-Mexican border as an undocumented immigrant with her mother and they rejoined her father. According to her she had no English at the time and it is this lack of understanding of the English language that informs this book.
So while this book is seemingly informed by a genuine life experience of being undocumented and having to learn a whole new language in a foreign country, this author does mention that they have white privilege which is no doubt why there is some discussion (that I have subsequently seen in other early reviews) about this book and questions surrounding the nationality of the main character versus the nationality of the author, i.e. issues surrounding own voices narratives of Latinx experiences.
The book itself focuses on the story of teenage Ana who moves from Argentina to the USA with her mother. Her father has been living and working in the USA for a number of years and is now able to send for them as they have the correct documentation. The plot follows Ana as she struggles to learn English and navigate the waters of high school with this great language block.
One of the things I very much enjoyed in this book was the use of Spanish throughout the novel. As someone who doesn’t understand a word of Spanish it really helped me to empathise with Ana’s plight where she could only understand half sentences and follow things in a broken fashion.
I very much enjoyed Ana’s attempts to get to know her new schoolmates. It was interesting to see how some of them (the Americans) had certain preconceptions about her because they filled in the gaps themselves of what they thought Ana was trying to say. And then to compare that with the other students who like Ana were also non-native English speakers that were trying to navigate high school for themselves.
I would have liked to have had more interactions with Ana’s new friend Altagracia as I found it very difficult to get a true sense of why these two became friends. I personally felt that a little too much time was spent on the love triangle between Ana and the two boys, Harrison and Neo, and would love to have seem a greater emphasis on female friendship and the value of that to a teenage girl.
One aspect I did quite like was the strained relationship between Ana and her father. It was very distressing showing how they didn’t seem to know each other after living so many years apart and to me really emphasised the greatest sadness of people who have to make the choice to leave their families behind just so they can create better opportunities for that same family in the future.
Overall this was a very quick and enjoyable read but one that I wish could have delved a little deeper into some more of the emotions behind the characters.
*An e-copy was kindly provided to me by the publisher via Edelweiss+ for honest review*
Publishing 4th February 2021, Balzer + Bray (Harper Collins)