The Book of Unknown Americans

by

Cristina Henríquez

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The Book of Unknown Americans: Chapter 22: Alma Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Alma and Arturo tell Maribel that she cannot see Mayor anymore, and in the days afterward, she becomes “moody and sullen.” Alma remembers a time in Mexico, before the accident, when Maribel painted her fingernails black in a small act of rebellion. All of Maribel’s “small insurrections” were done “playfully [and] good-naturedly,” and Alma and Arturo always reassured Maribel that they would love her no matter what. Now, Alma worries that by banning her from seeing Mayor, and squashing the only “small insurrection” she has attempted since the accident, they are “undermin[ing] all of her progress.”
Alma both misses the rebellious spirit her daughter once had, and attempts to prevent Maribel from regaining that agency and point of view. Alma is aware, though, of the potential consequences of forbidding her daughter to pursue something she has chosen for herself, and denying her the “small insurrections” which make up a life and a personality.
Themes
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
In the middle of the night, unable to sleep, Alma asks Arturo if they did the right thing, and Arturo implies that if Maribel did not have a brain injury, she would be allowed to see Mayor. Alma accuses Arturo of thinking of Maribel as his “brain-damaged daughter” rather than just his daughter. Arturo reminds Alma that even Maribel’s doctors said she would never be the same person she was before the accident. He implores Alma to understand that they will not “get her [back.]” Alma attempts to accept the truth of what Arturo has said.
Alma herself struggles with the perception of Maribel as “brain-damaged,” and she considers whether she and Arturo are still making the best choices for their daughter. A year after her accident, with all the progress she has made, Maribel is beginning to show signs of being who she once was—but Arturo insists that no matter what they do or do not let Maribel do, she will never be the same, and Alma resignedly relents.
Themes
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon