The Book of Unknown Americans

by

Cristina Henríquez

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Maribel Rivera Character Analysis

The daughter of Alma and Arturo, the teenage Maribel has suffered a traumatic brain injury which has impaired her ability to emote, communicate, and remember. Maribel was once, according to her parents, impetuous and a bit rebellious, but now her spunky attitude has been replaced with a flat affect and rampant confusion. Maribel is in many ways the catalyst for all that happens in the novel—longing to be able to give her a better, more specialized education, Alma and Arturo change their entire lives so that Maribel can attend the Evers School in Newark, Delaware. After the initial setback of being shunted into the public school system, Maribel arrives at Evers and begins to show some marked improvements—brought on both by her education and, arguably, by the friendship of the lovestruck and attentive Mayor Toro. Maribel’s relationship with Mayor gets both of them into a lot of trouble—many believe that Maribel is not capable of having agency over her decisions any longer, and eventually, after Quisqueya Solis observes the two kissing in Rafael Toro’s car, they are forbidden from seeing one another. Maribel most directly embodies themes of longing, isolation, trauma, and loss, though she is not a tragic figure. At the end of the novel, she has regained some of her personality and her mother, Alma, realizes that Maribel never really left—she just needed to be seen in a new light and accepted for who she was.

Maribel Rivera Quotes in The Book of Unknown Americans

The The Book of Unknown Americans quotes below are all either spoken by Maribel Rivera or refer to Maribel Rivera. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage Books edition of The Book of Unknown Americans published in 2014.
Chapter 4: Alma Quotes

I dropped the hot dog into a pot of water. I could hear Arturo behind me, working through his thoughts, trying to box in his frustration. After all these years, I could interpret his various silences. I knew he didn’t want to say any more about it. I didn’t want him to, either.

Finally, “She’s in the bedroom?” he asked.

“She’s resting,” I said. “The hot dog will be ready soon,” I added, as if it were some sort of consolation. But when Arturo didn’t say anything, I felt acutely the meagerness of it, the insufficiency. We wanted more. We wanted what we had come here for.

Related Characters: Alma Rivera (speaker), Arturo Rivera (speaker), Maribel Rivera
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13: Alma Quotes

I was a worrier by nature and I couldn’t escape the feeling that anything could happen to her at any time. As if because something terrible had happened to her once, there was more of a possibility that something terrible would happen to her again. Or maybe it was merely that I understood how vulnerable she was in a way I hadn’t before. I understood how easily and how quickly things could be snatched away.

Related Characters: Alma Rivera (speaker), Maribel Rivera
Related Symbols: The Ladder
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

“What if God wants us to be happy? What if there’s nothing else around the bend? What if all our unhappiness is in the past and from here on out we get an uncomplicated life? Some people get that, you know. Why shouldn’t it be us?”

Related Characters: Arturo Rivera (speaker), Alma Rivera, Maribel Rivera
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19: Alma Quotes

This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. We had followed the rules. We had said to ourselves, We won’t be like those people who pack up and [go] north without waiting for the proper authorization. We were no less desperate them. We understood, just as they did, how badly a person could want a thing—money, or peace of mind, or a better education for their injured daughter, or just a chance at this thing called life. But we would be different. We would do it the right way. So we filled out the papers and waited nearly a year before they let us come. We waited even though it would have been so much easier not to wait. And for what?

Related Characters: Alma Rivera (speaker), Arturo Rivera, Maribel Rivera
Page Number: 181-82
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 26: Mayor Quotes

Both of us were trying to make sense of it. And sitting there, I started thinking, Who can say whose fault it is? Who can say who set this whole thing in motion? Maybe it was Maribel. Maybe it was me. Maybe if I hadn’t left school that day, none of this would have happened. Maybe if our parents hadn’t forbidden us from seeing each other, I wouldn’t have needed to steal her away. Maybe if my dad had never bought that car, I wouldn’t have had a way to get to the beach. Maybe it was my tía Gloria’s fault for giving my dad the money [to] buy it. Maybe it was my tío Esteban’s fault for being a jerk she would need to divorce to get that money. You could trace it back infinitely. All these different veins, but who knew which one led to the heart? And then again, maybe it had nothing to do with any of us. Maybe it really was completely random, just something that happened.

Related Characters: Mayor Toro (speaker), Maribel Rivera
Related Symbols: Rafael’s Car
Page Number: 261
Explanation and Analysis:

“You could come back one day,” I said. “Or I could come there.”

“Maybe.”

“I could find you.”

Maribel shook her head. “Finding is for things that are lost. You don’t need to find me, Mayor.”

Related Characters: Maribel Rivera (speaker), Mayor Toro (speaker)
Page Number: 263
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 27: Alma Quotes

I took most of the garbage bags that I had piled in the hallway out to the alley. Maribel helped me carry the mattress down to the parking lot, where we left it. Somebody else could have all of it if they wanted. I didn’t need it anymore.

Related Characters: Alma Rivera (speaker), Arturo Rivera, Maribel Rivera
Page Number: 276
Explanation and Analysis:

There she was again. The person Arturo and I had been waiting for, the reason for all of this. And as I looked at her I saw that maybe she had been here all along. Not exactly the girl she used to be before the accident, which was the girl I thought I had been searching for, but my Maribel, brave and impetuous and kind. All this time I had been buried too far under my guilt to see her. I had been preoccupied with getting us to the United States because I wanted it to make her whole again. I believed that I had lost my daughter and that if I did the right things and brought us to the right place, I could recover the girl she used to be. What I didn’t understand—what I realized now—was that if I stopped moving backwards, trying to recapture the past, there might be a future waiting for us.

Related Characters: Alma Rivera (speaker), Arturo Rivera, Maribel Rivera
Page Number: 282
Explanation and Analysis:
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Maribel Rivera Character Timeline in The Book of Unknown Americans

The timeline below shows where the character Maribel Rivera appears in The Book of Unknown Americans. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Alma
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
...in Newark, Delaware thirty hours after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Alma wakes her teenage daughter, Maribel, who has fallen asleep in the pickup truck they’ve been transported in. Her husband Arturo... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
...is dingy, ugly, and “reek[ing] of mildew and fish.” As Alma and Arturo look around, Maribel stands “expressionless, as usual, clutching her notebook to her chest.” Alma wonders what her daughter... (full context)
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...can understand. Other customers in the store begin to stare. Flustered and frightened, Alma takes Maribel outside. The boy with the skateboard looks Maribel up and down—Alma is “used to people... (full context)
Chapter 4: Alma
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...“just over the state line in Pennsylvania.” The farm is the only place near to Maribel’s new school that would sponsor the Riveras’ visas. After Arturo’s first day of work, Alma... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Arturo asks if Alma has heard from Maribel’s new school, but she says that they did not call. Alma cooks Arturo a single... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...later, a translator from the school district calls—her name is Phyllis. She informs Alma that Maribel will have to start at a nearby public school before she can be “placed in... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Arturo is disappointed by the news, but optimistic. On Maribel’s first day of school, Arturo and Alma, “filled with impossible expectation,” help Maribel to get... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
...leave, and after several minutes, he does. Alma wonders why he came to the building—for Maribel or for something else. (full context)
Chapter 5: Mayor
Longing Theme Icon
...into our part of town show up at school,” and he waits to run into Maribel there. He asks his friend William if William has seen anyone new in his classes,... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
One day, Celia and Mayor go to the Dollar Tree, where they run into Maribel and Alma. Mayor is mesmerized by Maribel’s beauty. Celia introduces herself and Mayor to Alma... (full context)
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Celia tells Alma and Maribel to stop by the Toro apartment any time—she is almost always home, she says spitefully,... (full context)
Chapter 7: Alma
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Maribel undergoes a series of evaluations and tests with psychologists and education specialists. Alma is interviewed,... (full context)
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Maribel’s school reports do not improve—her teachers describe her as “unresponsive and unengaged.” Alma attempts to... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...to tell her to call on them if she needed help. Ynez, after learning that Maribel, Arturo, and Alma have all been sleeping on the same mattress, brings over a sleeping... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...an unfamiliar part of town and has just twenty minutes to get home to meet Maribel’s bus as she arrives home from school. Alma gets off the bus at the next... (full context)
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Alma, panicked, arrives back at the Redwood Apartments, searching for Maribel everywhere. She finds her with Mayor Toro, in the hallway outside the Toros’ apartment. Mayor... (full context)
Chapter 8: Mayor
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...tends to hide in his room—Celia coaxes him out, though, and urges him to engage Maribel, since the two of them are about the same age. Mayor is afraid to attempt... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...rumored to be an alcoholic. Mayor attempts to ignore Garrett and walk away, but soon Maribel’s bus pulls up and drops her out front of the Redwood Apartments, where Garrett taunts... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Mayor makes sure that Maribel is okay, and then asks her if she’s going up to her apartment. Maribel insists... (full context)
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Soon, Mayor and Maribel hear Alma calling for Maribel. She is flushed and panicked, but Mayor reassures her that... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Mayor feels that something has changed between him and Maribel—he is protective of her, and now engages in conversations with her on Sundays and attempts... (full context)
Chapter 10: Alma
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...suggestion of a fellow shopper at the Dollar Tree, makes oatmeal for herself, Arturo, and Maribel to have for dinner. Arturo initially is disgusted by the oatmeal and he begins to... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...she is dogged by memories of the past and how things used to be before Maribel’s accident. Alma recalls the circumstances of the accident: Arturo was leading a construction project and... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
At the work site, Alma observed Maribel carefully as she helped out with small tasks. Arturo called down to one of his... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Maribel’s doctors in Mexico were optimistic about her recovery, but warned Alma and Arturo that she... (full context)
Chapter 11: Mayor
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Mayor and Maribel grow closer, despite Maribel’s difficulties with communication. Mayor is patient with her and he helps... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Mayor asks Maribel what happened to her. She tells him that she fell, but she cannot remember the... (full context)
Chapter 13: Alma
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Trying to focus on the positive, Alma and Arturo rejoice over the fact that Maribel is laughing more often, now, and seems less confused about the day-to-day aspects of her... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Alma notices that Maribel has “developed a sort of friendship” with Mayor, but she insists that the two only... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...Toros’ apartment, but as she reaches the staircase, she hears a boy’s laughter. She finds Maribel’s sunglasses on the sidewalk and grows uneasy. She turns a corner and sees Maribel pushed... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...him what happened, as she does not want him to know that she has failed Maribel for a second time. She knows that Maribel is okay—she asked her all about the... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...thinks about the approaching Christmas holiday. She remembers a Christmas Eve two years previous, when Maribel made buñuelos—fried dough balls—for the entire family all by herself. Alma remembers that as Maribel... (full context)
Chapter 14: Mayor
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...not had a run-in with Garrett since he stood up to him in front of Maribel, though he has seen Garrett around school. One day just before Christmas break, though, Garrett... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...Toros have] had in a while.” Mayor is heavily grounded—he is not allowed to see Maribel or his friend William, and he receives no allowance. His father has also taken away... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...the party grows more and more boisterous and joyful, and everyone starts dancing, Mayor pulls Maribel away from the action in order to give her a Christmas present—he has saved up... (full context)
Chapter 16: Alma
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
That night, after Maribel has gone to bed, Alma and Arturo sit at the kitchen table drinking tea. Alma... (full context)
Chapter 17: Mayor
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...with the purchase of the car, but Mayor is still grounded and still hasn’t seen Maribel since Christmas. He hopes that she doesn’t think he is ignoring her—if anything, he thinks,... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Angry that no one around him can understand that he and Maribel are “meant for each other,” Mayor goes to visit the Rivera apartment the following day... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Mayor and Maribel tell Alma that they are going over to hang out at the Toros’ apartment. Mayor... (full context)
Chapter 19: Alma
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Toward the end of January, Arturo loses his job. He comes home one afternoon while Maribel and Alma are working on Maribel’s homework and gets straight into the shower. Alma follows... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...their hardship, Alma feels that she and Arturo are closer than they have been since Maribel’s accident. For their nineteenth wedding anniversary, on February 19th, Alma and Arturo decide to go... (full context)
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
At the restaurant, Arturo, Alma, and Maribel order ice waters and watch the American families all around them. Arturo toasts his and... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...He is afraid that if anyone finds out their family has fallen out of status, Maribel will have to leave her school. Alma assures him that their family is “not like... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...are doing—Celia, wanting to avoid her, doesn’t invite her along. At the marsh, Mayor helps Maribel skate on the soles of her shoes. There is a large crowd at the marsh,... (full context)
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...there is a knock at the door—it is Quisqueya. Alma offers her water and sends Maribel to her room—when she and Arturo sit down with Quisqueya, Quisqueya says that she “hates... (full context)
Chapter 20: Mayor
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...to a movie—Mayor is still grounded, but he decides that if he snuck out for Maribel, he can sneak out for William, too. That afternoon, when Mayor arrives home from the... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Mayor protests, angry that his father has never liked Maribel and upset that no one ever asks Maribel what it is that she herself wants.... (full context)
Chapter 22: Alma
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Alma and Arturo tell Maribel that she cannot see Mayor anymore, and in the days afterward, she becomes “moody and... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 23: Mayor
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...It almost doesn’t matter to Mayor, though, as he is still not allowed to see Maribel. (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
...how to drive automatic. William intuits that whatever Mayor is up to, it is about Maribel. (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
...outside the school, and Mayor creeps around the building from window to window looking for Maribel. After a while, he finds her and motions for her to come outside. He points... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Mayor meets her at the front of the school, and, though Maribel does not have her coat or her sunglasses, she agrees to go with Mayor to... (full context)
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Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
At nearly five in the evening, Maribel and Mayor arrive at their destination—it is the beach that Rafael once took the Toros... (full context)
Chapter 25: Alma
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
It is Friday, and Alma is waiting at the front window of the apartment for Maribel to get home from school. It is snowing outside, and there is no sign of... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Alma becomes afraid that Garrett has somehow taken Maribel, and she makes “an anguished sound.” Celia implores her to calm down and offers to... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Alma calls Arturo and tells him that he needs to come home from job-hunting—Maribel has not come home from school. Arturo asks if Alma has called the school, and... (full context)
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Arturo calls the police, who say that the school has already notified them that Maribel is missing and that a patrol car has been sent out to look for her.... (full context)
Chapter 26: Mayor
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
By the time Mayor and Maribel get back in the car and start heading for home, it is already getting dark.... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
When Mayor and Maribel reach home, Rafael Toro is standing outside in the parking lot smoking a cigarette. Rafael... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Maribel asks Mayor what is going on, and she seems to be growing agitated. Celia tells... (full context)
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Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Maribel waits with the Toros for hours until a nurse takes her away to the surgical... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...The Toros are overwhelmed with grief. Rafael goes to the hospital to retrieve Alma and Maribel and brings them back to their apartment—Celia asks why he wouldn’t have brought them back... (full context)
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
The next morning, Celia and Mayor go to visit Alma and Maribel. Mayor sits with Maribel in her bedroom while their mothers converse, cry, and even laugh... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
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Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
The last time Mayor ever sees Maribel is one week later—Maribel is sitting on the curb outside of the Redwood Apartments next... (full context)
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The next morning, Alma and Maribel are gone and Mayor pictures what they might have looked like as they left for... (full context)
Chapter 27: Alma
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...of the moment she learned of Arturo’s death and how difficult it was to tell Maribel that her father had died. There were no words “in Spanish [or] in English” to... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
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...about Garrett Miller had come to the apartment right after Arturo left to look for Maribel, and when Alma suggested to him that Maribel’s disappearance might have had something to do... (full context)
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...will cost five thousand dollars to transport his body. Alma tells Celia that she and Maribel must return to Mexico—they have fallen out of status and the police now know. No... (full context)
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Alma speaks with Phyllis, the translator from the school district, and informs her that Maribel will not be continuing at Evers. Phyllis assures Alma that Maribel did well and that... (full context)
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Alma and Maribel pass the time receiving guests, watching television, and packing for their journey home. Alma keeps... (full context)
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Two days later, Alma and Maribel leave in a black pickup truck. Rafael has found someone to take them across the... (full context)
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Six hours or so into the trip, Maribel complains of a stomachache. The driver pulls over, and Maribel gets out of the car... (full context)
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...it a chance.” As she contemplates the journey that remains ahead of them, Alma asks Maribel how she is feeling—Maribel tells Alma that she is “fine,” and Alma is relieved. This... (full context)