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One Good Thing about America: 09/03/18

One Good Thing about America

One Good Thing about America by Ruth Freeman is an epistolary novel about a girl's first year of school in America after moving here from a French speaking country in Africa. Where exactly she's from isn't specified but given that her name is Anaïs and that her English is peppered with French words and phrases, it can be inferred that she's from a French speaking nation.

These letters are homework for Anaïs to practice her English. Her ELL teacher also hopes that by writing down one nice thing about America each day will help her adjust and come to love her new home. Over the course of these letters we get to learn more about her past, her current situation, and her feelings about her new home.

The novel was inspired by the author's many years working as an ELL teacher. I can appreciate that the author probably doesn't want to risk revealing personal information about any of her students, so chose instead to leave Anaïs's background vague.

Unfortunately, by not even giving her a country, Anaïs becomes just one more generic "African" although she's not as bad a walking stereotype as she could be. Imagine instead if Anaïs was from a French speaking country in Europe. I think more readers would be up in arms that her background wasn't specified. But here due to institutionalized racism we have come to see Africa as somewhere other — a completely separate unknown country, rather than the hugely diverse continent made up of fifty-four nations and roughly 16% of the world's population.

Three stars

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