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THEIR BOY PROBLEMS, SECRET PASSWORDS, AND SHIFTING ALLIANCES SHARE SPACE ON THE PAGE, AS THEY DO IN THE GIRLS’ WINDS. travails of her subjects’ quest for an education would have been an impressive contribution to the immigration debate, but Thorpe incorporates grass-roots histrionics and congressional fumbling that threaten to arrest the girls’ progress \(or Thorpe brings her subjects to life with insightful, often tender characterizations \(she introduces her pivotal figure, Marisela, as having “the gravitational own personal dramas drive the narrative, from unruly prom hair to how to pay for college. Their boy problems, secret passwords and shifting alliances share space on the page, as they do in the girls’ minds, with deported parents, abandoned siblings, legislative turbidity and the everpresent question: What will happen when we graduate? The reader cannot help but care about these straight-A students, born into circumstances they didn’t choose, saddled with nearly incomprehensible challenges and committed to whatever progress they can make with what is not denied them. Thorpe met the four girls in early March of 2004. A “friend of a friend” introduced her to Elissa \(the names athlete who gives pep talks to her companions about homework and punctuality. When Thorpe arrived at the Old Country Buffet in suburban Denver to meet Elissa, all four friends were waiting. She met Marisela, “the dramatic one,” with a penchant for chameleonic hair color and body glitter, and Yadira, the reserved one who “took up such a small emotional footprint that, were it not for her striking coltish figure, it might be possible to forget she was present at all.” Completing the group was Clara, the sensitive one, who dressed boyishly and cried easily. If Marisela was the first to experiment with everything, then Clara was the last. “Looking them over,” Thorpe observes, “I could not discern who had documents and who did not, although I knew the group was bifurcated along lines of legal status.” It’s a brief aside but is the kind of thoughtful pause in the narrative that Thorpe allows throughout. She invites readers to reflect, as she did, on what makes a person “seem” illegal and how valid or fair that assessment might be. Thorpe orients readers into the simultaneous booms of retirees and new immigrants during the ‘9os that turned Denver into a Petri dish for the nascent national immigration “crisis.” “Inside the Old Country Buffet, the clientele fell into two categories: aging white people and young Mexican-Americans. In the center of the country, America’s two fastest-growing demographic groups were eating side by side at a restaurant where they could purchase a cheap lunch?’ This device is a Thorpe specialty; she stays aware of macro and micro in the story and is attuned to the moments that let one represent the other. The technique allows readers to follow the girls’ joys and failures in an evolving political environment that fills them alternately with hope and fear. Tying the two together, as Thorpe does repeatedly, is not mere stylistic cleverness but an important part of why the book works. When an author uses any device regularly, there are bound to be less successful attempts. Thorpe’s employment of the environment usually feels like a stretch. At the end of Chapter 4, Thorpe writes, CC… politics was always on the horizon whenever I spent time with Marisela and Yadira. The ongoing debate over illegal immigration occupied a hulking presence in the emotional geography of the two illegal girls, much in the way that the Rocky Mountains dominated the physical landscape?’ Oh, that she had stopped there. One sentence later, she elaborates, “As locals used the snow-capped mountains to orient themselves in space, the two illegal girls used the fiery political debate to orient themselves with respect to the idea of America?’ Don’t let this and a few other clunky constructions dissuade you from Just Like Us. It is a feat of journalistic empathy, an epic journey through the realities of undocumented life and its scope reaches from the most-powerful to the most-powerless in the drama of Mexican-American immigration. Every Americandocumented or not deserves to meet Marisela, Yadira, Elissa and Clara. They defy classification, label and stereotype. The four, and through them the millions they represent, are complex, complete individuals, worthy of love, health, education, consideration, human rights andthe reader can hardly help but concludecitizenship. Emily DePrang is a contributing writer for the Observer. Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation for a subscription price of $32.00. Publisher, Carlton Carl; Editor, Bob Moser; Managing Editor, Chris Tomlinson. Owner: The Texas Democracy Foundation, 307 W 7th St., Austin, TX 78701. 15. Extent Other Classes Mailed Through the USPS: avg. 53, Total Free 8434, actual 6770. Percent Paid and/or Requested Circulation: avg. 98%, actual 99%. Signed Candace Carpenter, Circulation Manager, 9/30/09. 24 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 30, 2009