Discussion Questions

Questions about Characters

Alma was extremely panicked when she realized that she was on the wrong bus home, and was not able to get home in time to pick up Maribel. Have you ever had a similar experience? In what ways was it the same? In what ways does it differ? 


What are some scenes in the novel that show signs of Maribel getting better?


If Quisqueya’s hadn’t intervened when she saw Maribel and Mayor in Rafael’s car, would the novel still have ended the same?


How is Quisqueya portrayed in the novel? What are her relationships with the other residents of the building complex? Did your opinions of Quisqueya change after reading her story? Do you think her actions are a result of her past?


Garrett is one of the few people in the novel that is highlighted often, even though he is not an immigrant. How is Garrett portrayed? What message is the author trying to convey through Garrett? If Garrett had his own chapter to tell us his own story, would we have viewed him differently?


Garrett Miller is a controversial character from a broken home. Did his backstory make him more empathetic in your eyes, or do you see him as irredeemable? Did he remind you of any particular problem child from school in your experience?


What is the significance of Fito’s story? Do you see him as a personification of the American dream because of his status as a successful landlord? Is he a failure because he couldn’t make it as a boxer? 


Questions about Themes

How is the dinner of the oatmeal scene a turning point for the Rivera family? What is the role of food in the novel, and how does it evoke memories of home and/or any cultural values and traditions?


Even though the Toros didn’t need a car, owning one was of the highest importance to Rafael. Why do you think he wants a car, and what does it seem to represent for him? What does the car mean to Rafael, and how does it affect the relationship with his son?


This novel includes many short chapters about characters living in the same building as the Toros and the Riveras. They each were immigrants from various Spanish-speaking countries with different goals and aspirations. What about America seemed to draw each one of them here?


Guilt and blame play an important role in the novel, especially for Alma, because she believes she is responsible for her daughter’s traumatic injury. After Arturo’s death, Maribel wonders to Mayor if her actions make her responsible for her father’s death. Do you believe Maribel and Mayor are to blame for Arturo’s death or do you blame someone else, like the policeman who failed to take action or Alma for keeping the incident with Garrett a secret? 


Do you feel like Alma was right about not telling Arturo about the incident between Maribel and Garrett? Is it a reflection of her guilt about the accident? What are her reasons for hiding this secret from him?


Questions about Relationships

How does lingering guilt about Maribel’s accident affect Alma’s choice and interactions when she arrives in America? Does she feel the same by the end of the novel? How does Alma move beyond her feelings?


Rafael’s experience with his father shows how anger and aggression can be passed down through generations in a cycle of abuse. Do you think that Mayor and Enrique can break the cycle with their children, or will the men of the Toro family continue to be hot-heads?

How do you think Maribel’s relationship with Mayor has influenced her and helped her recover after her injury? 


In what ways are the relationships between a child and their parents represented in this story? Think about Maribel and her mother, Mayor and his father, Garrett and his father, etc. Are there any similarities? Differences?


How does the community bond together after the death of Arturo? What is Alma’s reaction? What does this show about the community?


Alma is constantly burdened with feelings of guilt over Maribel’s accident. Do you think that Maribel will spend her life blaming herself for her father’s death in a similar fashion?


As Maribel and Alma are traveling back to Mexico, Alma realizes that her daughter has grown and changed since living in America. Though she is not the same as she was before the accident, Maribel still has pieces of her personality and individuality that Alma thought were missing. Why do you think it took Alma so long to realize that the girl in front of her now had “been there all along?”


Questions about Style

How do different perspectives affect the novel?


Even though this novel is fiction, do you think that there is some truth behind the stories? Do these stories accurately represent immigrants in America? Why or why not?


Why do you think the author chose to use Delaware as the setting for this novel? Would another location have made for a more impactful novel? Could the setting have been anywhere?


Did the author’s descriptions of Delaware make this fictional story seem real to you or were they unnecessary details?


Why do you think the author chose to write the final chapter of the novel through Arturo’s point of view? Did he say anything you found particularly striking?


Why didn’t the author put a chapter in from Maribel’s point of view? How would this have changed the novel?


The Book of Unknown Americans Homepage

Yeliz Kurt, Bridget Callaghan, Shane McGarry, & Austin Maaddi 2019

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