18-year-old high school senior Isaias Ramos plays in a punk rock group called Los Psychosis and likes to sing along to songs by Björk and her old band, the Sugarcubes. He’s so bright that when his school’s quiz bowl goes on local TV, he acts as captain.
The counselors at school want him to apply to Harvard. But Isaias isn’t so sure.
“Why?” he asks. “Why should I go to college? Why? I mean everybody tells you to get a good job, right? But I think about a good job doing what? A college degree gives you the ability, but not the actual job. And I guess from my mindset I just don’t see college as being that important.”
He’s thinking of going to work painting houses with his parents, unauthorized immigrants from Mexico. His parents want him to go to college, but can do little to help: they don’t speak English and their educations ended early: his mother finished the ninth grade, his father the sixth. In many ways, Isaias is on his own.
Despite the obstacles and his own doubts, Isaias sets out on the journey to become the first in his family to go to college. He faces make-or-break standardized testing, immigration bureaucracy and absurdly high college costs. And most importantly, the siren song of doubt.
The decisions he makes now will affect his life for decades and influence the lives of his potential children and grandchildren. Dozens of his fellow 12th-graders will make similar decisions this year. So will countless legions of other children of immigrants across the country. And so will millions upon millions more in the years to come.
This remarkable true narrative follows Isaias and his friends for more than three years as they seek their purpose in life, fall in love and break up, and face surprising twists of fate. The characters in this modern yet timeless story will stay with you long after you turn the final page. And now that one in four young people in America is a child of immigrants, this is essential reading.
“There is a wide, almost universal air to the author’s writing, as he alternately tells a narrowly focused story and a broad-based one, making clear that this tale of one family’s immigration cannot be told without laying bare the complex context in which it is situated. A story of one child… that has much wider, timely resonance.” ―Kirkus
“Combining a historical overview with a focus on teenage Isaias and his family, as well as many other personal stories of Mexican immigrants, this account shows the diversity of Mexican immigration… Caught up in today’s news images, readers will appreciate the intense daily drama behind the offensive ‘illegal alien’ stereotypes.” ―Booklist
“Compelling…Connolly’s touching story about the challenges that children of immigrants, both documented and undocumented, face in making their way in the United States provides readers with a deeper understanding of the immigration debate.” ―Library Journal
“Immerses readers in the world of Isaias Ramos, a high-achieving Memphis teen who’s an undocumented immigrant…[A] delicate, comprehensive, and empathetic portrait.” ―Publisher’s Weekly
“The Book of Isaias is a compassionate and well-told tale from Tennessee, a corner of the U.S. that is being remade, quietly, by the dreams and the labor of Latino immigrants. Daniel Connolly has placed his reporting muscles at the service of a hard-working Mexican family and their smart son, and borne witness to their noble struggles.”
—Héctor Tobar, author of the New York Times best-selling Deep Down Dark, the definitive account of the 2010 Chilean mine disaster and rescue.
“Never has immigration—specifically Mexican immigration—been a more divisive issue, and never have we been more in need of nuanced portraits of real immigrants as they make their tricky passage through modern American life. Here Daniel Connolly treats us to just such a portrait. Richly reported, empathetic, carefully observed, and devoid of tendentious argument or political spin, The Book of Isaias is a stout rebuke to anyone who wishes to build a wall—real or metaphorical—around this unimaginably complicated and delicately human issue at the center of our national discourse.”
—Hampton Sides, bestselling author of Americana, In the Kingdom of Ice, and Hellhound on His Trail
“Thought-provoking and moving…The story of Isaias Ramos is the story of thousands of young immigrants; the challenges they face and the choices they make will shape the country for decades to come.”
—Miriam Pawel, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of “The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography,” a National Book Critics Circle finalist
“I will never forget the story of Isaias Ramos. Daniel Connolly brings Isaias–his hopes, his romance, his ethics and burning intelligence–to vivid life in The Book of Isaias, a stellar work of reporting that reads like an unputdownable novel. Isaias’ triumphs and his heartbreaking challenges say more about the immigration debate than a thousand sound bites. A must-read for any thoughtful American.”
—Amanda Eyre Ward, author of The Same Sky.
“The story in this book is a crucial one – for American cities like Memphis that have grown to rely economically on immigrants too often absent from civic life; and for Mexico, for whom the departure of Isaias and his family represents a massive depletion of energy and its most crucial natural resource.”
―Sam Quinones, journalist and author on Mexico and the Mexican-American experience, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic
“Daniel Connolly has written a deeply researched, moving account of one teenager’s efforts to find a foothold in 21st century America as a child of Mexican immigrants. At a time when our views of immigrants, especially from Latin America, are colored by simplistic, divisive rhetoric, this is a heartfelt, but most importantly a true account–one person’s story that makes us realize the universality of the immigrant experience.”
―Ian Johnson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting