Tuesday, 24 May 2016

BOOK REVIEW: In The Country We Love

Later this year, The Midnight Ramble will be doing episode-by-episode reviews of Season Four of Orange is the New Black. As a prequel, here is my review of a book by one of the cast.

In The Country We Love is the autobiography of actress Diane Guerrero. You might remember her as Flaca's feisty best friend Maritza on Orange Is The New Black (She's chiefly memorable for coming up with the slogan 'If you want pizza, vote for Maritza'), or Jane's feisty best friend Lina on Jane the Virgin.

Last year I got on the Netflix train and I got into OITNB in a big, bad way. The big thing I plugged into was the diversity. You don't see so many women on a show, much less an American show, and of all different stripes, races and creeds. And every character, over the course of the show, has been allowed to grow and change. How many other shows would give actresses, much less WOC opportunities like that?  And no matter how dark and cynical the show gets, there's the weirdly uplifting sense of camaraderie to the characters, a sense that somehow they can get through this. It's wonderful.

Once I had exhausted the series, I went a step further and started researching everyone on the show. Along with how the show has become a beacon for everything from LGBT rights to prison reform, the cast are not content to just be in the show, but are a part of the issues that the show covers.

I caught Guerrero's interview on CNN in which she talked about her parents' deportation when she was 14. It really hit hard and I had a million questions I wanted the answers to, the big one being 'How did she go from that to now?' I heard she was writing a book and pre-ordered that sucker as soon as it popped up.

The book is surprisingly lean. Guerrero and co-writer Michelle Burford jump right in, starting with the day a teenager came home to find her parents missing. It's the same material Guerrero described in the op-ed she wrote a few years ago, but a good way to bring the reader in. This sequence gains an added poignancy by the succeeding chapters, in which she goes back to describe her parents and their reasons for coming to America, and Diane's early years.

I won't spoil it, but it's really interesting read. While it is a powerful scene, the opening has some rather florid prose that detract from its impact. When Guerrero and Burford return to her parents' deportation after covering Diane's childhood, it is far more powerful.

Guerrero's story does have its dark passages -- the actress is extremely forthright about her battles with depression, her mixed feelings toward her parents, and the way she was forced to become an instant grown up in order to survive.

It's a powerful read, but it is not all a downer. The last third of the book documents Guerrero's slow, stilted beginnings as an actress -- it's a ground level view of acting, where the jobs are few and the rejections many, and Guerrero really nails the gofer attitude all young artists have to do anything to get a foot in the door -- student films, commercials, a weird episode where she has to sell her old shoes to a salesman for foot fetishists... It's one of the strongest sections of the book.

It's a little rough and unvarnished, but overall In The Country We Love is a really good book, and does a great job of putting a human face to the plight of many illegal migrant families. Guerrero has gotten involved with the fight for immigration reform and this book is clearly meant as a personal statement on the issue. It is not a polemic, and not intended as a political treatise. However, as a meditation on the personal impact of the issue, it is a complete success.

Well worth a look.

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