Review: A Dream Called Home

by Reyna Grande (Simon and Schuster, 2018)

Reyna Grande spans cultures and borders to explore coming of age in California as a young immigrant from Mexico. Picking up where her first memoir The Distance Between Us (La Distancia Entre Nosotros) leaves off, in A Dream Called Home (La Búsqueda de un Sueño) we follow Reyna north from Los Angeles to the University of California at Santa Cruz. She arrives as a community college transfer student. She feels insecure yet discovers strength in her love of literature, writing, and her ambition to build a secure future. She is armed with determination and a brand new computer purchased on credit. At UCSC, Reyna struggles to fit in, and claims space to write while juggling studies, odd jobs, and housing insecurity. She eventually connects with academic mentors, joins a folklórico dance group and deepens ties with other Latinx students and dancers. She also steps up to parent her rebellious, teenaged little sister, Betty, who moves in with Reyna in order to finish high school in Santa Cruz. This memoir is a beautiful testament to the transformative power of higher education, and celebrates education as a path forward for everyone, including recent immigrants and “Dreamers”.

Grande’s prose is lyrical and engaging with vivid descriptions of characters and settings. The tone is honest and matter of fact, facing tough times and misadventures in work, romance, and family relationships. After graduating from college, Reyna realizes she cannot make a living purely from writing, so she accepts a teaching challenge in one of the toughest middle schools in Los Angeles. For the author, "home" is many things: sticks and stones of her childhood home in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico, a garage, a shared apartment, a dorm room, a foreclosed tract house in one of Los Angeles' most dangerous neighborhoods, and ultimately, her books built of dreams and words.

Now, when geographic borders are becoming more pressurized, when the space between cultures is often blurred by the pressures of global political economy, A Dream Called Home testifies to ways that language and literature hold the power to heal and also to build bridges between people and families. This memoir will appeal to fans of Michelle Kuo's Reading with Patrick and Clementine Wamariya's The Girl Who Smiled Beads. Readers seeking courageous and timely memoirs about the Mexican-American immigrant experience will find much to love in Grande's books. She also explores the many dimensions of family, forces pulling us together, apart, and hopefully—but not always— together again. Her memoirs and the example of her life offer particular encouragement to Dreamers and families with roots in two countries. I first met Reyna Grande when she taught at the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference a few years ago. She’s an inspirational public speaker as well as a gifted writer. Essential reading. A community builder of a book.

Karen Lewis