Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America
by Helen Thorpe

Scribner, 2009. ISBN 978-1-416-53893-6.
Reviewed by Susan M. Andrus
Posted on 10/02/2009

Nonfiction: Biography; Nonfiction: History/Current Events; Nonfiction: Cultural/Gender Focus; Nonfiction: American Women in Their Cultural/Historical Context

Four Mexican girls, two legal immigrants born in the United States, and two illegals born in Mexico with legal siblings born in the US, grew up as best friends in junior high and high school. Just Like Us reads like a detective novel as Helen Thorpe shows how they cope with these similarities and differences—how they manage to get real or fake IDs, drivers' licenses, jobs, and college financial aid—all the while dealing with deported parents, boyfriends, and peer pressure. Finally, when an illegal immigrant teenager murders a Denver police officer, additional obstacles emerge to thwart their happy friendships as their differences become even more evident. As Thorpe, wife of Denver's mayor, relates, "All of us found ourselves in new territory, far from our point of origin. I didn't know what the rules were anymore."

Through reading this book, I learned to care about how these girls survived the conflicting laws in the US that seemed, for the most part, to prevent them from achieving the American dream. Thorpe relates to their dilemmas, having been an immigrant herself. She documents how their fiercest opponent, Tom Tancredo, himself offspring of immigrant grandparents, tries to gain political capital by blocking illegal immigrants from receiving decent educational programs, health care, and respect. At the same time, the Mexican immigrants—both legal and illegal—must pick fruit and vegetables, clean dirty buildings, and remodel other wealthy citizens' houses in order to survive.

As Thorpe weaves these girls' lives through the events swirling around them, I found myself staying up late to read one more chapter, or two, or three before going to sleep. Thorpe wrapped up this incomplete story with a question as there really is no ending to the dilemma of illegal immigration with its many personalities and complex rules. She asks "Did the idea of a country—an abstract concept, really—truly matter more than the sum happiness of all the individuals living without its boundaries? No, I thought. People mattered more than governments. In fact, this country was founded on that very idea."

Helen Thorpe was born in London and grew up in Medford, NJ. Her journalism has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, New York magazine, Texas Monthly, and The Texas Observer. Thorpe has worked for The New York Observer, The New Yorker, where she wrote "Talk of the Town" stories, and Texas Monthly. She is married to John Hickenlooper, the mayor of Denver. Just Like Us is her first book.

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