cover image An American Immigrant

An American Immigrant

Johanna Rojas Vann. Waterbrook, $17 (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-44555-6

An ambitious journalist struggles to embrace her Colombian-American heritage in this uplifting debut from Vann. After graduating from Northwestern, talented but uptight writer Melanie Carvajal is hired by the Miami Herald, where she hopes to achieve the financial stability she lacked growing up. After a year at the paper, Melanie’s editor informs her that her writing has become lifeless and perfunctory, and suggests her job is at risk if she doesn’t improve. In an effort to resuscitate her career, she falsely implies that she’s been to Colombia (her mother’s home country) in order to land a reporting assignment in Bogotá. Melanie’s always felt removed from Colombian culture, however, and first travels to the city of Cali to learn more about the country and celebrate her grandmother’s 90th birthday; there, she reconnects with her extended family. When Melanie finds and reads her mother’s old journals, she comes to understand the incredible hardships her mother endured with the aid of her faith for a better life in America, and is driven to reassess her relationship to her heritage and her career, and to grow closer to her mother. While a few plot elements would benefit from additional detail, including Melanie’s mother’s immigration process, Vann delivers a textured, emotionally nuanced rendering of complicated cultural loyalties and the ultimate transcendence of family connection. Readers will be moved. (Aug.)