Don't Ask Me Where I'm From

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Don't Ask Me Where I'm From Book Poster Image
Thought-provoking tale of smart Latina breaking down walls.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Spanish words and phrases, some aren't translated but provide context clues. Insight into the dangers and difficulties of getting into the United States, especially from Central America.

Positive Messages

When you see or hear something hateful or hurtful to others, especially to a group of people, speak up; don't let it become normal or acceptable. Just make sure you find truly productive ways to speak up that can close gaps between people instead of widen them. Who you are as a person should matter more than who you are on paper. Where you're born ultimately determines the borders of your life, the things blocking your way, the places you belong, or even that none of these are a problem for you. People are individuals; try to get to know them as individuals and not as a member of a group, race, or ethnicity.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Liliana is a good role model for strong family and friendship bonds, academic and artistic achievement, empathy, and learning how to deal with the barriers that life puts in her way. She helps take care of her family's apartment and her younger brothers. Lots of positive representations of people of color in the diverse cast of family, friends, and fellow students. Liliana's mother is emotionally absent as she sinks into depression and is overprotective and strict, but it's out of love. Her father is absent physically but Liliana has lots of fond memories of his wisdom and of how he exposed her to new places and ideas even at a young age.

Violence

A character remembers a drunk man punching a wall, hitting his child, and a fight with kicking and punching that causes a child to crash through a glass table; lots of blood is mentioned but not described. A fight with yelling and crying is heard, later a character appears with a swollen face implying that she was hit by her grandmother. A school assembly erupts into racist shouts and the audience throwing books, pencils, and other objects at the presenters.

Sex

A few kisses and making out once or twice that aren't described in detail. Condoms mentioned and female condom samples are passed around a sex ed class. One character mentions needing a tampon, and another brings up some cultural taboos about using them.

Language

"S--t," "f--king," "bitch," "ass," "pissed," "sucked," and "nigga" as an example in a group discussion.

Consumerism

A few food, beverage, and restaurant brands mentioned incidentally.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A memory ties a very drunk man to violence. Mention that adults had Coronas at parties. Mention of past drug abuse and a neighbor who's a drug addict. A teen rolls notebook paper to look like a blunt. Mention that something smells like stale weed.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Don't Ask Me Where I'm From is a coming-of-ager with a lot of positive Latinx representation in the main characters and a diverse group of supporting characters. It tells the story of Liliana, a high-school sophomore and first-generation American who finds out she's been accepted into a program that will transfer her fom her gritty Boston neighborhood.neighborhood to a wealthy, white, suburban high school 20 miles away, and she feels conflicted about it. Infrequent strong language includes "s--t," "f--king" and"bitch," and a group discussion mentions using "nigga." A memory of a past violent incident involving a drunk man mentions a lot of blood when a child falls through a glass table, but there's no gore or detail. It's implied that a teen was hit by her grandmother from overheard yelling and crying, and the teen later appearing with a swollen face. Aside from the drunk man, the only other mention of alcohol is a memory of adults drinking beer at parties. A character remembers their mother's past drug use and mention that a neighbor is a drug addict. Parental absence and fear of loss is a prominent theme. Overall messages are positive about dealing with barriers and seeing people as individuals rather than skin colors. Lots of food for thought about immigration, identity, opportunities, barriers, and more.

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What's the story?

DON'T ASK ME WHERE I'M FROM tells the story of Liliana, a high-school sophomore and first-generation American from a gritty Boston neighborhood. Just as the new school year begins, she finds out she's been accepted into a program that will transfer her to a wealthy, white, suburban high school 20 miles away. The list of reasons not to join the program is as long as the daily bus ride will be, but Liliana's mother won't let her pass up the opportunities the richer school can provide. Her father's also been gone for a long time, with no explanation, so making ends meet and taking care of two younger siblings doesn't make things any easier. When Liliana learns the truth about her father, she starts to take a hard look at who she is, where she belongs, what's in her way, and how to get around anything blocking her path. 

Is it any good?

Author Jennifer De Leon's debut novel is an engaging and thought-provoking story that will get readers thinking about lots of important personal, political, and cultural issues. Readers of color will find a lot of positive representation, and all teens will find plenty to relate to in Liliana and her experiences. Don't Ask Me Where I'm From inspires empathy and encourages getting to know people as individuals instead of types or skin colors by emphasizing that no single group's experience or background is the same for everyone in that group.

The story contains few surprises and sometimes the plot slows a bit or seems a bit repetitive. But teens will relate to Liliana and her friends, and hopefully be inspired not just to pursue their dreams but to put in the hard work it takes to learn something new and make a difference. And of course to appreciate and empathize with others' life experiences.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Don't Ask Me Where I'm From portrays Liliana. What makes her a positive role model? What are her character strengths and weaknesses?

  • What about the strong language? Is it realistic? Does that make a difference? How much is too much in books, videos, games, moves?

  • Why is it important for books and other media to have racially diverse characters? How does it affect how you see yourself and how you see others?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love Latinx books and coming-of-age stories

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