Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From

Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From
Simon & Schuster, 2020

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About the Book:

First generation American LatinX Liliana Cruz does what it takes to fit in at her new nearly all-white school. But when family secrets come out and racism at school hits a fever pitch, she must decide what she believes in and take a stand.

Fifteen-year-old Liliana is fine, thank you very much. It’s fine that her best friend, Jade, is all caught up in her new boyfriend lately. It’s fine that her inner-city high school is disorganized and underfunded. It’s fine that her father took off again—okay, maybe that isn’t fine, but what is Liliana supposed to do? She’s fifteen! Being left with her increasingly crazy mom? Fine. Her heathen little brothers? Fine, fine, fine. But it turns out Dad did leave one thing behind besides her crazy family. Before he left, he signed Liliana up for a school desegregation program called METCO. And she’s been accepted.

Being accepted into METCO, however, isn’t the same as being accepted at her new school. In her old school, Liliana—half-Guatemalan and half-El Salvadorian—was part of the majority where almost everyone was a person of color. But now at Westburg, where almost everyone is white, the struggles of being a minority are unavoidable. It becomes clear that the only way to survive is to lighten up—whiten up. And if Dad signed her up for this program, he wouldn’t have just wanted Liliana to survive, he would have wanted her to thrive. So what if Liliana is now going by Lili? So what if she’s acting like she thinks she’s better than her old friends? It’s not a big deal. It’s fine.

But then she discovers the gutting truth about her father: He’s not on one of his side trips. And it isn’t that he doesn’t want to come home…he can’t. He’s undocumented and he’s being deported back to Guatemala. Soon, nothing is fine, and Lili has to make a choice: She’s done trying to make her white classmates and teachers feel more comfortable. Done changing who she is, denying her culture and where she came from. They want to know where she’s from, what she’s about? Liliana is ready to tell them.


Reviews of Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From

…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…A thought-provoking tale about navigating race and immigration issues.”

Kirkus Reviews, April 2020


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.”

Booklist, May 2020


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.”

  Common Sense Media, May 2020


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


[De Leon] 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.'”

Boston Globe, August 2020