Swimming to America

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Linda Berati, an eighth grader in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, knows that her parents are Albanian and her little sister American. But what is she? And how did she get to New York? Her parents evade her questions, fueling Linda’s uneasiness about her identity. Only Ramón, a Cuban immigrant her age, seems to understand. Together, they escape to the hideout she and Ramón built. Then a strange, foreign man appears at the hideout, and right away Linda feels connected to him. She soon discovers that Ramón’s wayward brother knows the man, and learns that immigrants – even illegal ones – come to the United States for many reasons. She determines to confront her mother and find out the truth about herself at last.

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Readers will be rooting for this plucky heroine as she struggles along to the ‘ultimate destiny of power and stubbornness – adulthood.’ –Kirkus Reviews
From School Library Journal

Grade 6-9–With characteristic sensitivity and optimism, Mead presents the struggles of Linda Berati, who seeks to uncover a past that her parents refuse to share. A family-history project at her Brooklyn school emboldens her to confront her hardworking, domineering mother with a demand for answers: why did she flee Albania; how was her face scarred; and why does Linda have recurring nightmares of drowning and suffocation? In addition, her compatibility with her old friends wanes as Donna and Crissy focus on boys, clothes, and social conformity. Linda identifies more with eighth-grade classmate Ramón, a Cuban refugee. After a stranger arrives on the scene, Linda discovers a criminal connection between him and Ramón’s older brother, Miguel. Anxious to help her friend with his family crisis, Linda contacts the police and, at last, shares her worries with her parents. With newfound trust and respect, they finally embrace her desire to enroll in the advanced educational program at a nearby academy. Linda and Ramón’s immigrant families share a determination to survive, to fit in, and to avoid conflict with authorities that might jeopardize their future in America. Through the two main characters, this struggle is personalized and enriched with universal adolescent issues of independence, responsibility, and self-confidence. Realistic dialogue, an engaging plot, and Linda’s roller-coaster emotions effectively counter the unlikely protracted reluctance of the girl’s parents to share their past and Linda’s surprisingly fearless berating of Miguel and his drug-dealing companions. Nonetheless, readers will find this title an informative, empathetic, contemporary portrait of the immigrant experience.–Gerry Larson, Durham School of the Arts, NC

Mead is a capable storyteller, and her characters and situations ring true. – Booklist
From Booklist
Gr. 5-8. “Just tell me how you got that stupid scar,” rages eighth-grader Linda Berati to her mother. “Stop lying.” She wants to be done with secrets; the ones she has to keep to protect her family (she admits that she’s “foreign” but “isn’t supposed to talk about it”) and the one about the strange man she is sure is dealing drugs with her friend’s brother. Somehow this is bound up with the scraps of memory that come to her about being gagged and almost drowned. Her new intensity puts her at odds with the girls who used to be her friends. When one of her teachers assigns a family history, Linda knows the time has come for answers. At the heart of the story are the experiences of individuals who immigrate to America through unofficial channels and what they stand to lose if they are exposed. Mead is a capable storyteller, and her characters and situations ring true, as do the voices of the children caught up in difficult circumstances. –Cindy Welch

With characteristic sensitivity and optimism, Mead presents the struggles of Linda Berati, who seeks to uncover a past that her parents refuse to share. Through the two main characters, this struggle is personalized and enriched with universal adolescent issues. Readers will find this title an informative, empathetic, contemporary portrait of the immigrant experience.– School Library Journal

Each of my books about kids in other countries–Iran, the Balkans, Sudan–was created when I got to know kids from other cultures who finally had been resettled in my town of Portland, Maine. They are now American kids, my neighbors and yours, who came from poverty and war.

Read about other parts of the world and take a journey there through the eyes of other kids your age. Travel by stories!
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