When I picked this book out I chose it for two reasons, firstly because I assumed that it was written by a Dreamer, and secondly because for some reason I also assumed that it was written by a teenager. As soon as I realized that both my assumptions were incorrect it colored my view of the book completely and for that reason I was unable to appreciate it as much as I probably should have. I was so excited to think that a Dreamer was being published that my realization that this wasn’t true was a real letdown. I think it’s essential that we let the people who have firsthand experience of being undocumented tell their stories, maybe because of personal experience, maybe because of the continuous bias that stands against those of us who were or are undocumented, or maybe just because so many of us remain in the shadows and have no voice it feels like a slight that someone else gets to tell the story. (Although I know it isn’t meant that way, but publishers please seek out firsthand stories from Dreamers too, there are so many of them).
If I take myself, my family, and our collective experiences out of the equation and look at Sanctuary Somewhere more objectively I completely understand why the author wrote it. It’s written in such a way (long form freestyle poetry) that it’s easy to read and digest, and it’s deceptively simple. The wording feels simple at first glance, but the emotion conveyed all through the book is very deep. That said you will most likely read through it in less than an hour.
Osmel lives with his mother and sister next door to his uncle and aunt and their kids, goes to school with his friends, and works with his family in an orchard. Osmel is undocumented, as is most of his family, and some of his friends. He only finds this out via one of his aunts when he is 17. He also witnesses an uptick in ICE arrests and deportations, and while he holds onto his dreams of being a meteorologist he struggles with the two lives he feels like he is living.
Brenna Dimmig conveys the fear, the reluctance to talk about one’s immigration status, even with those close to us, and the difficulties associated with being both an undocumented immigrant while only knowing the US as home very well. This book is a great tool for teaching school children about Dreamers in general and for also teaching empathy. However I do feel that it only scratches the surface, and a lot is also missing (mainly the reason why some people are not eligible to apply for DACA, why there are more deportations now, the sacrifices that immigrant families make not only to come here but also to stay here, and the continuous rot of white supremacy that directs this country, the effect of the current administration on the immigration population, the stereotypes, and also the fact that not all Dreamers are Mexican). I feel like Osmel’s story deserves deeper insight, maybe in the form of a novella.
So all in all, Sanctuary Somewhere does the job Brenna Dimmig set out to do, it is well written and full of emotion, but what is missing for me is the voice of someone who lived or is living this situation (the likes of Reyna Grande come to mind).
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the copy in exchange for an honest review!