The Book of Unknown Americans

by

Cristina Henríquez

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The Book of Unknown Americans: Chapter 16: Alma Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Alma has not told anyone about the incident with Garrett, but she is hardly able to think of anything else—she is “suffocating under the weight” of the secret. In the first days of the new year, Alma decides to go to the police. She believes that in America, the police are righteous and more reliable than in México.
Alma is isolated in her guilt and shame—she attempts to get herself out from under that isolation, though, by involving the police.
Themes
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
At the station, Alma is introduced to a Spanish-speaking officer and begins to tell him about the situation. The officer ridicules Alma, suggesting that Alma just wants to keep Maribel away from boys she is interested in. Since there is no crime, and since Alma did not witness Garrett lifting Maribel’s shirt or otherwise assaulting her, there is nothing the officer can—or will—do. Alma leaves, angry and frustrated.
Alma thought that the police would help her—she believed that in America the police would serve the people more justly and compassionately. However, this aspect of her dream of America is shattered, and she is once again thrust into isolation.
Themes
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Instead of going home, Alma boards a bus bound for Capitol Oaks. On the ride, she looks up the English words for “leave” and “alone,” and practices the phrase as the bus nears Garrett’s neighborhood. When the bus drops her off, Alma wanders the neighborhood for upwards of ten minutes and finds not a soul in sight. As she prepares to leave, she finally sees Garrett taking the trash out of his house. Alma realizes that Garrett saw her from inside and came out on purpose to confront her. Garrett approaches Alma, and she says, very quietly, the phrase “Leave alone.” Garrett tells her to “Go home,” and Alma understands that he means go back to México. Garrett touches a finger to Alma’s cheek, turning his hand into the shape of a gun, and then mimes firing it. Alma, frightened, turns and leaves.
Alma’s encounter with Garrett is terrifying, to say the least, and seems to foreshadow the threat of even more violence to come. Alma attempted to stand up for herself and her daughter, but now she finds herself more frightened and isolated than ever before. Her attempt to reckon with Garrett—an uncompromisingly mean and angry individual—was ultimately futile and has resulted in Alma only feeling more fearful of what Garrett is capable of doing to her and her family.
Themes
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
That night, after Maribel has gone to bed, Alma and Arturo sit at the kitchen table drinking tea. Alma is aware that she is behaving nervously and that Arturo can tell something is wrong with her. She reminisces about the time before the accident, when she and Arturo were very deeply in love—now, something has “changed” between them. Alma feels “a fire roar up inside [her,]” and longs to stop feeling sad and anxious for a moment. She climbs into Arturo’s lap and kisses him, and the two have sex—Alma instantly feels that “all [is] right in the universe.”
As Alma contemplates how her relationship with Arturo has changed, and reels from her futile and frightening encounter with Garrett earlier that afternoon, she once again attempts to extricate herself from her isolation by connecting physically with Arturo, whom she loves deeply.
Themes
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
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