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Hope: the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best

The Book of Unknown Americans, a novel written by Cristina Henriquez, is a story about people who face realistic challenges in their lives. As they face these challenges, the author creates realistic reactions as the characters demonstrate feelings of hope. Whether they lose hope or hold on to hope, their actions and thoughts are similar to feelings that real people experience.

The story begins with Maribel’s parents, Alma and Arturo,who had hope to have a child which was not likely to happen, but it happened when they had just began to lose hope. As they lost hope they were learning to accept that they weren’t meant to have a child. They would admire other couples who had their own children. Suddenly Alma discovered that she was finally pregnant and she had a baby girl named Maribel. Alma and Arturo were very protective of their only child and they knew that they would not be able to have another one.

As Maribel grew older, she wanted to prove her independence to her parents by completing tasks on her own. Alma wanted to give her daughter the chance to do things on her own but due to an accident, Maribel lost the ability to even think on her own. The accident caused Maribel’s brain to tear against bone in her skull and the swelling of her brain could have killed her. Rather than death, Maribel continued to live but she had brain damage from falling off a ladder. Alma hoped that she wouldn’t be at fault for Maribel’s accident but Arturo blamed Alma for not holding onto the ladder while Maribel climbed down. Maribel’s parents held onto hope that their daughter would recover from having brain damage by moving to America for a better education for Maribel. Alma hoped that an American school would be the answer for Maribel’s recovery and she was eager to see improvement immediately because of how much work it took for them to move to America.

When Maribel and her family moved to America, they came across a troublemaker boy named Garrett. Garrett used to hope that his brother would come home safe from Iraq after joining the air force but he lost hope when he discovered that his brother did not survive.

Mayor’s parents hoped to experience a better, safer life in America than Panama but Alma worried about the safety of her daughter in America because of Garrett staring at Maribel when they first appeared in town for groceries. Maribel hoped to keep Maribel safe from harm and she didn’t want to be blamed for any more accidents that she could have prevented to protect Maribel. Not only did Alma lose hope for the safety in her town after witnessing Garrett trying to molest Maribel but most people lost hope in the safety of America after 9/11 occurred. Mayor hoped that Maribel would stay safe and he was protective over her. He hoped that Garrett would leave him and Maribel alone.

Mayor also hoped that his dad would be proud of him for anything but he lost hope when he realized how closed minded his dad was when he spoke poorly about Mayor spending so much time with Maribel. Mayor stopped hoping to gain his dad’s respect because he loved Maribel the way she was, even though her brain was damaged. Mayor always tried to make Maribel happy in hopes of seeing her smile and hearing her laugh. Rafael, Mayor’s father, hoped that Mayor would reach the same expectations that his older son, Enrique reached. Celia, Mayor’s mother hoped to gain independence as a woman to work in case her husband, Rafael lost his job at the cafe but he wouldn’t let her be the provider of the household.

Although Henriquez uses fictional characters in her novel, she includes real events that have happened in history, including 9/11 and the invasion of Panama. The author provides realistic emotions through the characters who have experienced these traumatizing events. In the article ‘Holding Hope and Hopelessness: Therapeutic Engagements With the Balance of Hope’, written by Carmel Flaskas, it explains that “sometimes people can feel hopeless, but still do hope, or one can act destructively, but still have hopeful beliefs.”. Henriquez influences the sense of these feeling of hope and hopelessness through the characters and their behaviors. Rafael especially demonstrates these emotions with his tendency to physically show his anger by throwing objects and yelling after discovering that Mayor has been lying to him about continuing with soccer. Rafael lost hope in his youngest son being like his oldest son but he still had hope that Mayor would learn from his mistake and grow up to be like Enrique.

The article also states that “at times, it can be critical that family members do hope for someone who is not in a position to do this.” which is a great example of Maribel, who doesn’t show evidence of being capable of holding onto hope after her accident but her parents continue to hope for the best in her life. Carmel Flaskas gives another perfect example in her article by including that “poor housing, impoverished neighbourhoods, family poverty, racism, and abuse and adversity across generations are all contexts that make it much harder for families to hold hope.”. This quote from the article perfectly explains exactly how each character naturally goes through cycles of hopefulness and hopelessness as they experience each of the following hardships listed in the quote.  

In conclusion, the author of ‘The Book of Unknown Americans’ includes fictional characters that are faced with realistic events from history and they express feelings through actions or thoughts in ways that real humans would in situations of losing or having hope though difficult situations in life. Carmel Flaskas discusses in her article the observations that have been made from observing real families who have experienced similar situations in life and have demonstrated similar actions and thoughts while feeling loss of hope or holding onto hope. In this essay, the actions of the fictional characters have been compared to families in reality that show similar actions while feeling hopeless or hopeful to prove that Henriquez gave the characters in her book accurately realistic emotions and reactions as people would in real life.

Works Cited:

Dictionary.com (definition of hope)

‘The Book of Unknown Americans’ written by Cristina Henriquez

‘Holding hope and hopelessness: therapeutic engagements with the balance of hope’ written by Flaskas, Carmel c.flaskas@unsw.edu.au