The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Book Club

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio redefines journalism with revelation and candor
Photo by Delia Brandel

This year in mid-August I decided to tackle the gnarly beast that is procuring your class texts as an English major. 

I took a few (so many) deep breaths and made my way to the campus bookstore, persevering against the blazing August sun. Foolishly, I hoped at least a few of the books I needed to acquire were rentals, or at the very least, able to be purchased used. 

I strolled the towering aisles of textbooks and novels, in a fluorescent-light-induced-haze, and the results were more than discouraging. I found that only one of my textbooks was a rental, and the other six had to be purchased entirely new. 

But this wasn’t my first rodeo. I refused to be outsmarted by the bookstore’s money-thirsty agenda and I had some advice in my back pocket. 

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ThriftBooks was recommended to me by my beloved Book club precursor and fellow English major, Grace Schutte. After my first semester of creative writing classes, I discovered that life without ThriftBooks involves spending hundreds of dollars on books every semester.

Following the disappointing debacle in the campus bookstore, I decided to head home and peruse the bountiful world of ThriftBooks on my laptop. A few quick searches later, I’d ordered the remainder of my books for a literal fraction of the price.

With the book dilemma solved, I was able to forget all about preparing for the upcoming semester until the first week of school. 

The books began trickling in through the mail (in separate orders, true to ThriftBooks style), and slowly started to form a stack in the corner of my bedroom. 

It was an unceremonious ordeal; I tore the package open, glanced at the book and placed it in the ever-growing pile. That is until “The Undocumented Americans” by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio arrived and promptly caught my eye.

The book’s striking cover was filled with crumpled I-485 forms and a red dahlia that seemed indicative of some intentional symbolism

From the very moment I observed the cover of “The Undocumented Americans,” I noted Villavicencio’s attention to detail. I was immediately intrigued by how the pristine, baby-pink cover was spattered with drops of what appeared to be blood. 

If you’ve read my Book club on judging books by their covers, you’d know I feel a wonderfully designed book cover usually indicates greatness within. So, I had high hopes for “The Undocumented Americans” before I even cracked its spine. 

This book was assigned for my survey of American Ethnic Literature class, and I was beyond eager to get into it. I expected greatness from the text, but oh my goodness, was I floored. 

Not only does Villavicencio boldly confront and critique the blatant indifferences and crises undocumented Americans face in the United States, but she does so with some of the most effortlessly powerful writing I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. 

Villavicencio manages to artfully blur the boundaries of genre, incorporating elements of memoir, biography, autobiography, journalism and nonfiction into a product that is far too nuanced to be categorized.

The author describes her personal perception of the book on page XVI of the introduction by saying, “This book is a work of creative nonfiction, rooted in careful reporting, translated as poetry, shared by chosen family and sometimes hard to read.” 

Villavicencio executes a diverse, personal style of “journalism,” in which she practices the act of journalism by interviewing undocumented Americans from a mirage of different backgrounds, but doesn’t maintain the rigid, sometimes impersonal aspects of its correct style. 

If I had to describe “The Undocumented Americans” with three words, I would use purposeful, evocative and pedagogic. It’s a book that reads as easily as a work of creative fiction while simultaneously educating, challenging and shocking readers in unforeseen ways. 

I would recommend this book with my whole heart, especially if you are someone with limited knowledge of what life looks like as an undocumented American. 

I’m sure you could guess that I’d recommend trying to acquire this book from ThriftBooks, but Barnes & Noble is another excellent option.

O’Brien can be reached at [email protected].

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