The Book of Unknown Americans

by

Cristina Henríquez

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The Book of Unknown Americans: Chapter 11: Mayor Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Mayor and Maribel grow closer, despite Maribel’s difficulties with communication. Mayor is patient with her and he helps her to recover her train of thought when she loses it and to remember words when she is uncertain of which to use. Mayor begins to understand how smart Maribel is, and how she is always listening even when she does not appear to be.
Mayor, initially afraid to engage Maribel or to discover that she did not have the ability to communicate, has come to understand how Maribel’s brain works—he realizes that though she has an injury which sometimes gives her the appearance of being isolated or unaware, she is bright, thoughtful, and slyly attentive.
Themes
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Rafael chides Mayor for not being able to “talk to normal girls,” but Mayor refuses to “pass up” the chance to grow close to a girl as beautiful as Maribel. Celia defends Mayor, but Rafael still disapproves. This pushes Mayor even closer to Maribel, who feels that he is really “the only one willing to give her a chance.”
Once again, Mayor faces his father’s harsh judgment. Mayor longs to grow closer to Maribel both out of desire for her and out of a desire to prove his father wrong.
Themes
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Mayor begins visiting the Riveras’ apartment some afternoons after school in order to spend even more time with Maribel. He wishes he could take her out somewhere, but Alma insists the two of them stay in the apartment. One afternoon, Mayor and Maribel discuss the weather—she has never seen snow, and is eagerly anticipating its arrival. As Mayor describes all the different forms snow can take, Maribel hastily writes everything down in her notebook—Mayor asks to take a peek at it, and she allows him to. He sees that she has written several simple directions to herself to help get through her days such as “This is Newark, Delaware,” “Delaware is 3,333 kilometers from home,” and “The school bus is free. The city bus is not free.”
Mayor and Maribel grow closer and closer even within the strict rules of their friendship. Mayor glimpses Maribel’s notebook and realizes both how difficult each day must be for her, and how motivated she is to make sense of her present, her past, and her future.
Themes
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Mayor asks Maribel what happened to her. She tells him that she fell, but she cannot remember the word for what she fell off of—finally, she arrives at the word “ladder,” and she describes her injuries and her lingering headaches. She tells Mayor that she “lost herself” in between the accident and the hospital, and confides that she likes being around him because he does not constantly ask her how she is feeling.
Maribel expresses the fact that she feels “lost,” and shows that she’s frustrated with being fussed over and condescended to. Though part of her has been lost, she admits, she is not as helpless as everyone around her seems to think she is.
Themes
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
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One evening, Mayor leaves the Riveras’ apartment for the night and, when he arrives home, finds that his father is home earlier than expected. Rafael asks Mayor why he isn’t in his soccer clothes, and Mayor makes up a flimsy excuse. Rafael seems on the verge of discovering Mayor’s secret, but instead he asks Mayor to get him another beer.
Mayor edges closer and closer to disappointing his father. He has abandoned something his father wants for him—soccer stardom—for the pursuit of something his father has vocally disapproved of—a relationship with Maribel.
Themes
Longing Theme Icon