The Book of Unknown Americans is a book about struggle, strength, overcoming heart wrenching experiences, and most importantly love. Throughout the story there is an important bond created through two of the main characters named Maribel and Mayor. Maribel is a character who suffers from brain damage due to an accident that happened years ago. Because of this readers often debate whether the love connection between them is real or not, or if it is just one sided because Maribel “doesn’t know better”. While analyzing this issue some may find that the answers are lying in-between the lines, the fact being that Mayor did not take advantage of Maribel because though she has a problem most cannot understand; she is still aware of the world around her only in a way that may be hard for others to comprehend. Still resulting with the fact that Maribel is still the same girl before her brain damage, and has been the whole time.
Maribel and Mayor’s characters are both young students in high school who come from hispanic backgrounds and culture. Maribel and her family moved to Delaware from Mexico to start a new life and hoping to live out the “American Dream”. Mayor grew up in the city where he and Maribel meet, and over time they develop and friendship that neither of them have ever experienced before. This shocks both of the families because of the fact that Maribel has a hard time communicating with anyone being that she had a brain injury when she was younger. However, before the accident her mother, Alma, claims that she was a fun and active kid. “I lay rigid on my mattress, remembering what it used to be like before all of this. Maribel running at the hammock, flipping it over her head, laughing wildly. Maribel darting across the street ahead of us, looking back and tapping her toes in mock impatience.”(Henriquez 97). After the incident everyone noticed a change in her and she had a very hard time communicating to the outside world. She had a very close relationship with her mom and dad but that was about it, Until she met Mayor.
Mayor comes from a family of high expectations and high discipline. His father puts a heavy weight on his shoulders and holds him up to the expectations of his brother who’s off to college on a full ride scholarship because of his soccer success. Unlike his brother, Mayor is horrible at soccer and hates playing it at school for the team because he only embarrasses himself. However, that does not stop his father from forcing him to play and expect him to be good at it. Through the story Mayor decides to skip soccer practice to spend time with Maribel and this is where their relationship truly begins to blossom. They begin to go on dates and spend time at Maribel’s house, until it becomes forbidden because of Mayor’s father regarding the fact that she has a brain injury. “Why can’t you talk to normal girls?”(Henriquez 108). To Mayor Maribel is better than a normal girl, and understands him better than any girl he has met before at school who would just shrug him off and put their nose in the air.
Maribel and Mayor have this strong connection because of the fact that many people with brain damage still feel strong emotions and react very similarly to love like “normal” people do. According to ScienceDirect, the brain when damaged is still able to communicate in different ways than neurotypical thinkers. “Results indicated that aphasic patients were equal to or more expressive than controls, while right hemisphere damaged and Parkinson’s disease patients were less expressive.”(ScienceDirect). This means that even those with brain damage on the right side were less expressive than those with brain damage on the left. This makes sense why Maribel is less expressive and most likely has damage on both sides. However, just because there is damage and it caused a difficulty in expressing emotions this doesn’t mean that it is completely impossible to communicate in other ways. Alma says so in the end that her daughter had been in there all along she had just been hoping so badly that she would go back to what she considered normal.
Maribel and Mayor had to say goodbye in the end of the story because the U.S had nothing to offer Maribel and Alma, resulting in a failure in finding the so called “American Dream”. This shows that their love was real because despite everything that they had he was able to let her go and understand it was for the best. True love is about wanting the best for the other person, even if that means letting them go. Maribel gave him her journal, a piece of her that was private and hidden from the world. The two had an undeniable love for each other and made a significant impact on one another. Despite Maribel’s brain damage there was still a loving, humorable, normal girl inside. Mayor was one of the few who were able to experience it.
- Henriquez, Cristina, et al. “The Book of Unknown Americans.” By Cristina Henriquez, www.goodreads.com/book/show/18465852-the-book-of-unknown-americans.
2. “The Communication Effects of Right Brain Damage on the Very Old and the Not so Old.” Journal of Neurolinguistics, Pergamon, 4 Aug. 1999, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0911604499000044.