When the local river floods, the two sisters and their brother have a harrowing encounter with death. But mostly her father’s absence eats away at Reyna’s 8-year-old soul.
“I felt I had a kind of scorpion inside me that was stinging my heart again and again,” she writes. “I wanted to reach inside my body and yank the scorpion out.”
Eventually, Reyna and her siblings cross the border illegally to begin a new life with their father. To Reyna’s young eyes, L.A. is a strange and magical place with impossibly fast traffic and goblins roaming the street on a day the locals call Halloween.
At school, Reyna dedicates herself to making her father proud. But Natalio, she soon discovers, is a tormented man of quickly shifting moods. Eventually, he wounds his children and the women who love him with his hurtful words — and fists.
His children escape home as soon as they are able. To a teenage Reyna, taking her first steps to becoming a writer, Natalio finally offers the only explanation for his violent outbursts. He tells a story that takes us, fleetingly, to the suffering of his own boyhood, which ended when his father made him plow fields with an ox. “I was nine years old,” he tells Reyna. “Do you understand?”
Grande works hard to understand. Her memoir is in many ways a ground-breaking addition to the literature of the Latino immigrant experience. The Distance Between Us is a book that deserves to be celebrated for its candor and for the courage of the woman who overcame so many obstacles to write it.
Hector Tobar reviewed this book for The Los Angeles Times.