Book Review: The Secret Side of Empty

Book Review: The Secret Side of EmptyThe Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu
Published by Perseus Books Group on March 11th 2014
Pages: 336
Buy on Amazon

Acting like a potential valedictorian who tutors other students while still finding time to ride shotgun in her best friend’s car as they flirt with boys is fairly easy for Maria Thalia —it is exactly who she is. And combined with her blondish hair and pale skin, M.T. is as apple-pie American as a high school senior can get. Almost.

The one simple, very complicating exception: M.T. was born in Argentina and brought to America as a baby without any official papers. She is undocumented and illegal in the eyes of the law. And as questions of college, work, and the future arise, M.T. will have to decide what exactly she wants for herself, knowing someone she loves will unavoidably pay the price for it.

Author Maria E. Andreu draws from her personal experience of formerly being an undocumented immigrant to explore an issue that is relevant to thousands of teenagers and countless families, schools, and communities.

M.T. has a secret, she’s an illegal immigrant from Argentina, who has few memories of the country they come from and feels in every other way American. At the start of The Secret Side of Empty, it’s M.T.’s senior year at her Catholic high school and as her friends start talking about college, she knows she can never go legally. Not knowing what is in her future scares her and she seeks out answers in a variety of ways. Beyond that, her father is a loose cannon and has been known to strike her and her mother, making it difficult to be at home.

Although her life seems terrible, she has a great friend in Chelsea, who tries to give M.T. her space but knows something is going on. When M.T. starts dating Nate, a cute rich boy, she starts to live that relationship, but through it all Chelsea is there, trying to be her friend. I felt for M.T. through this whole book, who has a beautiful name – Monserrat but hides it because in the past it has been easily mispronounced. There are so many aspects to this book and the things that M.T. goes through really puts her through the wringer.

I also like that Monserrat stumbles quite a bit in this book. She acts the jealous girlfriend when her boyfriend is away during Christmas, she snaps back at her father and is rude to her mother. The Secret Side of Empty even shows some of the ungrateful side of being a teenager, wishing her mother spoke English and being embarrassed when she starts working at her school and pretending not to know her.

I found myself really enjoying this intense book, thinking of my own students that may be illegally in the country and the difficulties that face them every day. M.T.’s journey through her last year of high school will appeal to readers on so many different levels and I hope all of you pick up this amazing book.

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