R e v i e w s


Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From
by Jennifer De Leon

Simon & Schuster 2020

An inner-city Boston student is accepted into a high school desegregation program. Liliana’s dad’s absence has been occupying her mind ever since he disappeared at the end of summer. This isn’t the first time he has gone away, but this time feels different: Her mom keeps having hushed, frantic phone conversations and won’t tell her where he is. Even more stress is added to Liliana’s life when she is pulled out of class by the vice principal and told that her acceptance into the Metropolitan Council for Education Opportunity (METCO) program means she’ll be commuting 20 miles to a predominantly white school in the suburbs. When she arrives at Westburg High, Liliana is surprised to see some other METCO students, like her peer mentor, Genesis, or the basketball team’s star, Rayshawn, completely immersed in the school’s academic and cultural activities. After finding out the truth about her dad’s absence, Liliana begins to analyze her own identity and biases in order to survive and excel at Westburg. While the aspiring young writer theme feels tired at times, De Leon’s debut deals tactfully with the tensions that race relations and the stress of keeping family secrets can bring on teenagers, producing an honest and empathetic portrayal. Liliana’s mother is from El Salvador and her father’s from Guatemala. A thought-provoking tale about navigating race and immigration issues.

~Kirkus Reviews, April 2020



When half-Guatemalan, half-Salvadoran Liliana, writer supreme at her inner-city Boston high school, discovers that she’s been accepted into a very “white,” very “bougie” academic program she never applied to, she must decide whether or not to let this new school determine who she is and who she wants to be. Adding to her angst is the mystery of her dad’s absence, about which no one in her family seems to have answers. De Leon takes readers on an action- and dialogue-packed emotional roller coaster that explores self-identity and pride in one’s diverse roots, centering on the perspective of a typical high-schooler worried about not only boys and grades but also the safety of her family. Readers will truly feel for and understand who Lili is, rooting for her as she discovers herself and begins to participate in social justice activism. An energetically paced, boundary-pushing novel that raises important questions of race, identity, belonging, true friendship, and how to stand up for a cause you truly believe in.

~Stephanie Cohen, Booklist, May 2020



Things are tense at home for 15-year-old Liliana Cruz: her father has been gone for weeks, her mother is increasingly depressed but won’t tell her why, and she’s recently been accepted into a program she didn’t even know her parents signed her up for: METCO, a high school “desegregation program.” Now she must wake up at 5 a.m. to catch the bus from diverse inner-city Boston to a predominantly white and wealthy suburban high school. With her distracted best friend Jade wrapped up in a new boyfriend and the other METCO kids ignoring her, Liliana has to find her own way in Westburg High. But just as she makes friends with sarcastic Holly and starts a romance with a seemingly sweet white boy named Dustin, her new equilibrium is thrown off-kilter by an incident of racism and the well-wrought, devastating revelation of where her father really is. De Leon’s debut handles issues such as immigration, deportation, assimilation, and Trump-era racial tensions in a humorous yet resonant way. Throughout, Liliana’s narration remains authentic as she finds her voice, making for a fulfilling, thoroughly contemporary read.

~Publisher’s Weekly, August 2020



In Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From, Jennifer De Leon’s powerful and poignant debut novel, 15-year-old Liliana Cruz shifts schools through the METCO program, from an inner-city Boston school to a fancy majority white spot in the suburbs. She sits through painful discussions on immigration in class, wonders about where her father is and when he’s coming back, worries about her mom slipping into a darkness she won’t explain, and tries to find her way in the new world in which she finds herself. De Leon, an assistant professor of creative writing at Framingham State, and an instructor at Grub Street, offers a timely look at the failings the Trump-era is helping expose, and how a teenager is negotiating the complexities of code-switching and learning how to raise her voice and succeed. Liliana asks her friend Genesis how she’s able to “go back and forth. You, like, cruise around, acting like yourself, but also, at the same time, kinda white — and then what? You go home and eat arroz con gandules and platanos fritos and call it a day?” Genesis offers her wisdom: “Make the system work for you.” 

~Nina MacLaughlin, Boston Globe, August 2020