The Distance Between Us

The Distance Between Us

The Distance Between Us Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Reyna Grande's The Distance Between Us. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Reyna Grande

Reyna Grande grew up in poverty in Iguala for the first eight years of her life. Her parents went to the United States to pursue greater financial opportunities, leaving her and her siblings in the care of an abusive grandmother. When she was eight years old, her father brought her and her siblings Mago and Carlos to live with him in Los Angeles, subjecting them to a harrowing and illegal border crossing. In Los Angeles, Reyna and her siblings adjusted to life in America, all the while fearing their controlling, alcoholic father’s punishments for the slightest transgression. Reyna found creative writing as an outlet both for self-expression and as a means of proving to her father that she was taking advantage of the precious opportunity of a life in America. Reyna went on to attain degrees from Pasadena City College, UC Santa Cruz, and Antioch College. The author of two novels and two memoirs, Grande is the winner of an American Book Award and an International Book Award, and she currently teaches creative writing at UCLA and several writing conferences around the country.
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Historical Context of The Distance Between Us

The events of The Distance Between Us span the entirety of Reyna’s childhood and adolescence in Mexico and the United States, covering a period of about 20 years, from 1980—when Reyna was four—to 1999, when she graduated from college at UC Santa Cruz. Reyna’s family’s struggles with poverty, disease, and abuse are exacerbated by financial turmoil and recession in Mexico, combined with tense and tenuous border politics that prevent them from legally coming to the United States. After illegally crossing the border with their father, it takes Reyna and her siblings years to get their green cards—all the while, their mother and father face the same struggle, and are eventually beneficiaries of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which legalized undocumented immigrants who entered the United States before January 1st, 1982, but also required employers to know and attest to their employees’ immigration status and made it illegal to knowingly hire illegal immigrants. The act granted amnesty to many immigrants, but also caused an increase in racial profiling and discrimination against workers across the United States. The debilitating, dangerous poverty in which Reyna and her siblings—not to mention their parents and grandparents—were raised persists throughout Mexico and South and Central America, and remains a catalyst for many immigrants’ journeys to “El Otro Lado.” To this day, an increasingly violent, corrupt, and insensitive atmosphere at the U.S.-Mexico border, fueled by racism and prejudice, keeps border reform as contentious an issue as ever.

Other Books Related to The Distance Between Us

The Distance Between Us is a memoir, but it is as much a political text as it is a personal one, and many of the works Reyna reads on her journey to becoming a writer—and to understanding her place in the larger context of Latina authors—are a similar blend of the personal and political. Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street is an important text in Reyna’s development not just as a writer, but as a person struggling to understand the abuse, pain, and hardship that have defined much of her childhood. V.C. Andrews’s Flowers in the Attic, a Gothic novel that tells the story of four children who are abused and locked up in a room by their grandmother, also resonates with Reyna as she recalls Abuela Evila’s cruelty towards her, Mago, and Carlos. Other books that are not mentioned in The Distance Between Us, but which deal with both the political and personal aspects of the immigrant experience, include Cristina Henríquez’s The Book of Unknown Americans, Luis Alberto Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway, and Daisy Hernandéz’s memoir A Cup of Water Under My Bed. Reyna Grande is also the author of two autobiographical novels that fictionalize the experiences described in her memoir: Dancing With Butterflies and Across A Hundred Mountains.
Key Facts about The Distance Between Us
  • Full Title: The Distance Between Us
  • When Written: Early 2010s
  • When Published: 2012
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Memoir, coming-of-age tale
  • Setting: Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico; Los Angeles, United States
  • Climax: Book One’s climax consists of Reyna, Mago, Carlos, and Papi’s terrifying illegal border crossing with the help of a coyote. Book Two’s climax takes place when Papi’s emotionally and physically abusive behavior at last extends to his second wife, Mila, resulting in his arrest.
  • Antagonist: Papi
  • Point of View: First-person

Extra Credit for The Distance Between Us

Less of a Distance. The Distance Between Us has proved such an impactful story—and such an unforgiving examination of both the short- and long-term effects of the traumas of border politics—that it has been selected time and time again as a common or community read in cities and colleges across the country. These reading programs help students and communities to establish a common ground, come together to discuss important issues, and expand the horizons of their learning.