Share Hope and Heartbreak: 10 Books About Immigration and the Refugee Experience

Hope and Heartbreak: 10 Books About Immigration and the Refugee Experience

Carrie Cabral is a Marketing Associate at Simon & Schuster. When she’s not writing, you can find her either at the gym, kickboxing or rereading Harry Potter for the zillionth time. She’s known in her community for being a #1 dog mom of a handsome young man named Buddy. During her commutes to work from Brooklyn, you can find her with the newest fantasy or literary fiction novel!

Migrant stories offer readers a glimpse into the uncertainty, courage, and hardships immigrants and refugees face. Living in a country largely based on immigration, it is important that we hear these people’s voices. No two stories are ever alike, making literature the perfect format to address this imbalanced narrative. Here are just a few of the many outstanding, eye-opening, and awe-inspiring books about the migrant experience.  


In the Midst of Winter
by Isabel Allende

New York Times bestselling author Isabel Allende takes readers on an epic journey from the 1970s to present day, traveling from Chile to Guatemala to Brooklyn. IN THE MIDST OF WINTER intertwines three individuals’ lives, each with their own harrowing tale. Readers are invited to immerse themselves in these stories, set in Brooklyn on a snowy night, as the characters share both their experiences and hopes for the future. 

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In the Midst of Winter
Isabel Allende

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Brooklyn
by Colm Tóibín

Colm Toibin’s intimate and moving novel is about a young woman, Eilis Lacey, who grew up in small Irish town after World War II. With no prospects in her native land, Eilis accepts a New York priest’s offer to sponsor her immigration to America. Eilis arrives in Brooklyn alone, but slowly it becomes her home. After falling in love, finding work, and immersing herself in American society, Eilis finds that she misses Ireland less and less. That is, in fact, until she is forced to decide where she truly belongs. 

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Brooklyn
Colm Tóibín

Acclaimed character actress Saoirse Ronan takes center stage as Eilis Lacey, a young woman who abandons small-town Ireland and the comfort of her mother's home for the anonymous shores of New York City. In Brooklyn, she finds a city in flux—a city where immigrants from Ireland and Poland live amongst Jewish and black communities—and just as she is beginning to fall in love with a young man, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her new life.

Release Date: November 6, 2015

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Across a Hundred Mountains
by Reyna Grande

ACROSS A HUNDRED MOUNTAINS tells the story of Juana Garcia, a young woman who is tragically separated from her mother. Unsure and afraid, Juana leaves her hometown in Mexico to search for her father, who left them two years earlier for work prospects in the United Statees. Along the way Juana meets Adelina Vasquez, a woman from California who has followed her lover to Mexico. Both girls are now alone, but in their time of desperation have found each other. A poignant story of loss, friendship, and hope, ACROSS A HUNDRED MOUNTAINS is a must-read for anyone looking for a strong perspective from a complex character. 

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Across a Hundred Mountains
Reyna Grande

Winner of the American Book Award, Across a Hundred Mountains is a stunning and poignant novel about a young girl who leaves her small town in Mexico to find her father, who left his family to find work in America—a story of migration, loss, and discovery.

After a tragedy separates her from her mother, Juana García leaves in search of her father, who left them two years earlier. Out of money and in need of someone to help her across the border, Juana meets Adelina Vasquez, a young woman who left her family in California to follow her lover to Mexico. Finding themselves—in a Tijuana jail—in desperate circumstances, they offer each other much needed material and spiritual support and ultimately become linked forever in the most unexpected of ways.

In Across a Hundred Mountains, Reyna Grande puts a human face on the controversial issue of immigration, helping readers to better understand those who risk life and limb every day in pursuit of a better life.

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MENTIONED IN:

Hope and Heartbreak: 10 Books About Immigration and the Refugee Experience

By Carrie Cabral | March 19, 2020

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The Map of Salt and Stars
by Zeyn Joukhadar

This beautiful and poetic novel narrates the lives of of two girls eight hundred years apart. Nour is a Syrian American girl whose mother relocates her family from New York City back to Syria after the loss of Nour’s father. In an effort to keep her father’s spirit alive, Nour tells herself their favorite story about the twelfth-century girl named Rawiya who disguised herself as a boy in order to serve as a mapmaker’s apprentice. When her family finally decides to leave Syria for good, Nour imagines herself as Rawiya, traveling the same route and charting the world. Complete with stunning writing, two truly incredible characters, and a transcendent story of love and home, MAP OF SALT AND STARS should be on your list of essential reading. 

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The Map of Salt and Stars
Zeyn Joukhadar

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Brick Lane
by Monica Ali

Nazneen, a young Bangladeshi woman, is struggling with the idea of leaving her whole life behind for a new one in London, complete with a new husband. After she moves, an affair between Nazneen and a younger, politically radical man ensues, forces Nazneen to question everything she once knew. BRICK LANE is a multicontinental story that pays just as much attention to Nanzeen’s internal growth and struggle as it does to her rapidly changing external life. 

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Brick Lane
Monica Ali

After an arranged marriage, Nazneen leaves her home and heart in Bangladesh for the mysterious and challenging city life of London, where she grows to be a devoted wife and mother. To her own amazement, when she begins an affair with a handsome young radical, her erotic awakening throws her old certainties into chaos.

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The Newcomers
by Helen Thorpe

Journalist Helen Thorpe follows the lives of twenty-two teens in Denver, Colorado. The kids, aged fourteen to nineteen, have all migrated to the United States as a result of war; several students have even come directly from refugee camps. With her vigilant eye and smart storytelling, Thorpe tells nuanced stories about the students' rapidly changing lives, all while touching on the policies and global issues that have brought them to this situation 

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The Newcomers
Helen Thorpe

From the award-winning author of Soldier Girls and Just Like Us, an “extraordinary” (The Denver Post) account of refugee teenagers at a Denver public high school and their compassionate teacher and “a reminder that in an era of nativism, some Americans are still breaking down walls and nurturing the seeds of the great American experiment” (The New York Times Book Review).

The Newcomers follows the lives of twenty-two immigrant teenagers throughout the course of the 2015-2016 school year as they land at South High School in Denver, Colorado. These newcomers, from fourteen to nineteen years old, come from nations convulsed by drought or famine or war. Many come directly from refugee camps, after experiencing dire forms of cataclysm. Some arrive alone, having left or lost every other member of their original family.

At the center of their story is Mr. Williams, their dedicated and endlessly resourceful teacher of English Language Acquisition. If Mr. Williams does his job right, the newcomers will leave his class at the end of the school year with basic English skills and new confidence, their foundation for becoming Americans and finding a place in their new home. Ultimately, “The Newcomers reads more like an anthropologist’s notebook than a work of reportage: Helen Thorpe not only observes, she chips in her two cents and participates. Like her, we’re moved and agitated by this story of refugee teenagers…Donald Trump’s gross slander of refugees and immigrants is countered on every page by the evidence of these students’ lives and characters” (Los Angeles Review of Books).

With the US at a political crossroads around questions of immigration, multiculturalism, and America’s role on the global stage, Thorpe presents a fresh and nuanced perspective. The Newcomers is “not only an intimate look at lives immigrant teens live, but it is a primer on the art and science of new language acquisition and a portrait of ongoing and emerging global horrors and the human fallout that arrives on our shores” (USA TODAY).

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MENTIONED IN:

Hope and Heartbreak: 10 Books About Immigration and the Refugee Experience

By Carrie Cabral | March 19, 2020

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Behold the Dreamers
by Imbolo Mbue

Mbue’s debut novel is a gripping tale of a Cameroonian family who comes to the United States just before the 2008 economic crash. Jende Jonga is thrilled when he gets a job as a chauffeur for a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. It’s enough for Jendehis wife Neni, and their six-year-old son to get a leg up as they begin their new life this country. But when the Great Recession strikes, everything changes, and Jende and Neni are faced with an impossible choice. Heart-wrenching and compelling, Behold the Dreamers unapologetically illustrates the pitfalls of the American Dream. 

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Behold the Dreamers
Imbolo Mbue

There have been dozens of novels recently published about the financial crisis of 2008, but few have focused on those most profoundly affected: the working families left to pick up the pieces. Jende Jonga is a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem with his wife, Neni, and child when he lands a job as a chauffeur for a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. As the story alternates between Jende and Neni and speeds perilously close to economic disaster, they learn about privilege, pride, and impossible choices.

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Refuge
by Dina Nayeri

A young Iranian girl arrives in America alone. The only family she knows is her father, whom she has left behind in her native land. Over the next twenty years, this girl evolves into a star student and eventually a successful adult living in Europe. During this time, however, she sees her father only four times. As the refugee crisis in Europe escalates, the now grown woman feels a sense of duty to help, but also grapples with her own identity and guilt about leaving her father behind so many years ago. A rich and fascinating character study, REFUGE pairs the deeply emotional with the urgent for a truly immersive read.  

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Refuge
Dina Nayeri

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MENTIONED IN:

Hope and Heartbreak: 10 Books About Immigration and the Refugee Experience

By Carrie Cabral | March 19, 2020

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The Refugees
by Viet Thanh Nguyen

This critically acclaimed novel by one of contemporary literature’s most important writers is a powerful and vivid look into what it means to exist in two worlds. The stories of these characters differone is a recent Vietnamese refugee, another is a girl in Ho Chi Minh City whose sister returns from America. Despite differing circumstances,  both characters  struggle to find their place and come to terms with the meaning of home, all while dealing with the very basics of modern human life: success, relationships, and finding purpose. 

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The Refugees
Viet Thanh Nguyen

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How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
by Julia Alvarez

Four sisters. Two cultures. In acclaimed writer Julia Alvarez’s 2010 novel, she tells the story of a family who flees the Dominican Republic in 1960. After their father is discovered in his attempt to overthrow the dictator, the four Garcia sisters must begin a new life. The sisters, Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofía, attempt to fit into their new culture, despite their neighbors’ resistance to them. Meanwhile, their parents hold on tightly to their old customs. For the girls, being caught between the old and new is painful but often exciting. This coming of age story is both moving and fascinating, while discussing the idea of being home but feeling not at home all aonce. 

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How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
Julia Alvarez

This brilliant, buoyant, and beloved novel gives voice to four sisters growing up in two cultures. The García family fled the Dominican Republic for New York City in 1960 when their father’s role in an attempted coup was discovered. In the wild and wondrous and not always welcoming USA, their parents try to hold on to their old ways, but the girls try to find new lives: forgetting their Spanish, straightening their hair, and wearing bell bottoms. How the García Girls Lost Their Accents captures how it is both liberating and excruciating to navigate the old world and the new.

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