In The Secret Side of Empty, M.T. hides the secret that she’s an undocumented immigrant. She’s despondent that she can’t plan for college like her wealthy friends, even though she’s the brightest girl in the bunch. What’s more, her abusive dad wants the family to return home to Argentina, a country that’s unfamiliar to her.
It took me far too long to realize that the book title is a play on the main character’s name (though I did figure it out before its mentioned in the book), and Empty strangely suits the characters’ state of mind. M.T. (short for Monserrat Thalia) has big dreams but feels no hope, and her story about cultural identity, education, and hope is something that’s easy to relate to. Beyond the big issue of immigration, M.T. is smart and sarcastic; she’s an intriguing character that you want good things to happen to.
When you are undocumented a lot of experiences are out of reach like leaving the country for a school trip or getting a drivers license. M.T. feels more and more isolated from her peers that are planning for college, as things seem to come so easy for them. Even though M.T. is a National Honor Society member, her depression causes her grades to slip as she starts to feel why bother.
Keeping such a big secret from your friends eats away at you, and Andreu makes M.T.’s sadness seem tangible. M.T. does have a good friend named Chelsea that sticks by her (we all need a Chelsea) and a romance with a boy from a neighboring school named Nate. But relationships are hard to maintain when you worry about the truths you keep hidden.
M.T.’s family life is hard, and sometimes there’s not enough food to eat or the electricity is turned off. One bright spot is M.T.’s mom and her SpongeBob-obsessed little brother, who love her so much. M.T.’s father is a piece of work though.
Maria E. Andreu draws from her own experience for the book, adding realism to this emotional story. Andreu’s writing is engaging and when I set out to read just a few chapters I’d get sucked into reading 100 pages or more instead. M.T.’s story gets quite dark at times, but I was left feeling ultimately hopeful. I do think this is a story that many teen readers will connect with.
I received a review copy of The Secret Side of Empty from Running Press Teen, and no bribes of post-it love notes, college scholarships or cool bikes exchanged. Add a copy to your shelf now: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | The Book Depository | Goodreads
Be sure to check out tomorrow’s post for a Q&A with author Maria E. Andreu!