This is the second part of our blog tour for The Secret Side of Empty - our review of Maria E. Andreu's beautiful and stunning book.
Tom and I feel really privileged to have talked the Maria and read the book, and we think you'll feel the same.
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published March 11th 2014 by Running Press Kids
Format read: Finished copy via publisher
Synopsis via Goodreads:
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.
Maria E. Andreu has written such a thoughtful, introspective and remarkable debut novel, I feel like anything I write will be inadequate compared to her writing. But since I want all of you to read this book, I'll try my best.
In The Secret Side of Empty, Andreu introduces us to M.T. (a.k.a. Monserrat Thalia). On the outside, M.T. seems like your average American girl - blonde haired, smart, National Honor Society -essentially, someone with a promising future.
But M.T. and her family are the only ones who know the truth: their entire family is illegal, and they are limited in their options. As M.T. gets closer and closer to her high school graduation, even those limited options are slowly beginning to run out.
From the very first page, The Secret Side of Empty absolutely blew me away. Andreu immediately establishes the sheer weight of the secret that M.T. has been carrying around for her entire life - everything M.T. thinks or does is dictated by her status as an "illegal". Even something as innocuous as wanting to take her driver's license test can't happen, simply because M.T. does't have a birth certificate.
As the novel progresses, Andreu carefully walks readers through the sheer cost of having such a burden on one person's shoulders. Even though M.T. is clearly a kind and intelligent girl at heart -she likes Disney movies and enjoys the novelty of having a boyfriend - her clear anger, confusion and resentment of living an untenable situation also begins to bleed through.
Through M.T.'s evolving relationship with her mother, her volatile relationship with her father, and even her ups-and-downs with her best friend and boyfriend, Andreu shows not only what it means for an individual to feel like their life is out of control through circumstances beyond their control, but also what it is to just be young and without agency.
M.T. has spent her entire life believing that her life needs to be lived a certain way because of her circumstances, but slowly begins to learn through the course of ...Empty, that there are (and always will be) different ways to handle difficult situations.
Of special note: Andreu presents a no-holds-barred approach to physical abuse and depression throughout the novel. It's bleak, painful and absolutely realistic. I was impressed at how well Andreu conveys that sense of desperation of not having a stake in one's future through M.T.'s actions.
I do think that younger readers will likely have questions for parents and educators as to why M.T. and secondary characters behave the way that they do in certain parts of the novel. I think that this is a great opportunity for fruitful, intelligent discussion, and I urge everyone to take opportunity of it.
Maria E. Andreu has accomplished the very difficult task of writing about a subject that not many may understand or have faced, but does so in a way where all readers will relate to M.T., especially with her loneliness and desperation of life moving on without her.
Like this reviewer on Goodreads, I too believe that Maria E. Andreu is destined to win all of the awards this year. I also strongly believe that this is a book that will help shape the opinions and the debate of young minds out there about adolescence and the immigration debate.
About the author:
Now a citizen thanks to legislation in the 1980s, Maria resides in a New York City suburb with all her "two's": her two children, two dogs and two cats. She speaks on the subject of immigration and its effect on individuals, especially children. When not writing or speaking, you can find her babying her iris garden and reading post apocalyptic fiction. Read more at http://mariaeandreu.com