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  • Writer's pictureO'Daniels

Love in English by Maria E. Andreu

Ana and her mother move from Argentina to the US after four years of being separated from her father. He's been living there alone, saving money, waiting for the paperwork and visas for them to come. They settle in New Jersey, where her father's job as a cab driver offers plenty of opportunities. To say it's culture shock is not doing it justice. Ana felt prepared, she's been learning English, watched as many American movies as she could, but when she walks into her classes for the first time, it's a bit jarring. Her English isn't quite as far along as she thought, her outfit and hair are all wrong, and she's doing her best not to cry in frustration. Her only salvation that first day is her ESL class with an enthusiastic teacher, even if he has no idea what he's doing. He follows the curriculum somewhat and makes impromptu field trips to places like McDonald's to practice ordering food, creates a fake restaurant in class, takes them ice skating, and assigns strange homework assignments like watching teen 80s movies. It's watching these movies in the library with another ESL boy, Neo, that the story's cuteness has its moments. Neo is from Greece, knows about as much English as Ana, but somehow their shared immigrant experience makes it work. There's another cute boy, an American boy straight out of a movie, and Ana is enamored immediately. When he asks her to tutor him in math (she's a smarty pants at math), she says yes. It's evident that both boys have some feelings for Ana, but the translation gets a bit lost. The love triangle aspect wasn't cheesy or frustrating (well, a little frustrating) but believable. I felt for Ana in those situations, and she did her best to make things right when presented with the opportunity. As a teacher and high school librarian who works with many ESL students, I couldn't help but think of them the entire time I read this. When Ana doesn't understand English, she inserts "wah, wah, wah" for it, of course, making me think of Charlie Brown's teachers. I listened to this audio and chuckled every time she did this. The English language discussion, especially things like idioms, and how many ways we can express ourselves using different words for the same thing is spot on. Her ESL teacher encourages them to keep a journal of words, phrases, or whatever really, that they turn in each week. Ana's real passion for poetry shines here, and thankfully, she has a teacher to support that. Her father supports her making A's in math to become an engineer and be an American success story. He insists they only speak English at home and has no interest in seeking out other Argentinian immigrants. They are in America now, and that's how they will behave. This all or nothing attitude isn't something her mom or Ana support, but her dad is stubborn. But when Ana becomes a little too American teen for her parents, they are forced to rethink their decisions. The author's notes are important to read, although some are taking offense because she only spent two years in Argentina and argues that this isn't a true #ownvoice story, which is rubbish. Her story shouldn't be dismissed because of her country of origin. Her story is slightly different from Ana's (Andreu was undocumented but obtained her citizenship in part to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986), but the problems of language and culture remain the same. Please put this in the hands of your ESL students and their teacher!! More importantly, put in the hands of the kids who AREN'T ESL students.


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