BookBrowse Reviews America for Beginners by Leah Franqui

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America for Beginners

by Leah Franqui

America for Beginners by Leah Franqui X
America for Beginners by Leah Franqui
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2018, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2019, 320 pages

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A funny, poignant debut novel about three strangers on a road trip across America.

Leah Franqui's first novel America for Beginners was well-reviewed by our First Impression readers; 20 out of 23 gave it four- or five-stars.

What it's about:
America for Beginners by debut author Leah Franqui is a peek into how others see both America and people from other countries within the context of their own upbringing and cultural norms (Susan L). Three very different people undertake a sightseeing journey across the United States. Their perspectives come from differences in culture, nationalities, social class and religion: Mrs. Sengupta, a wealthy widow from India, arranges the trip ostensibly to see America for the first time; tour guide Satya, an immigrant from Bangladesh, wants to impress his boss at the travel agency despite the fact that he's never been outside of New York City; and Rebecca Elliott serves as a companion to a woman she's never met because her acting career is at a standstill and she needs the promised $3,000 payment (Patricia E). In their travels they learn about each other, their surroundings and themselves (Laura G).

The book's themes are universal:
To me, what makes America for Beginners an excellent read is not the theme of immigrants learning about America, but rather the more universal theme of young adults struggling to live their lives fully despite parental disapproval (Dona H). The novel underscores what most people already know — wherever you go, there you are (Melanie B).

Several First Impression readers found the book elicited an emotional response:
The book is compelling in its humor and its pathos. I laughed out loud at some scenes; at others, I wept (Carole C). The friendships that develop over the course of the journey are heartwarming (Amy W).

Most reviewers praised the author's ability to bring her characters to life:
The characters, flawed as they are, ring true in their grief, guilt, and prejudices, and in their quests for acceptance, forgiveness, and a small slice of American freedom (Carole C). Even though they come from completely different walks of life, their stories are intertwined in a way that is both beautiful and flows effortlessly (Melissa S). I felt empathy for all three of them (Catheryne Z); they remind you of individuals that you encounter in life - real and relatable (Carolyn L).

A few criticized the book's pace and felt the writing could have been better:
The first 100 pages were a bit slow with all the character build-up. I thought it might have worked better had Franqui saved a bit of the backstory for later in the book (Susan L). I think your appreciation for this book will depend on what you're looking to get out of it. If you want a feel-good, non-demanding story full of kind-hearted characters and happy endings, this is a pleasant, easy read. If a mixture of clichéd plot lines, wooden dialogue and painfully stereotyped scenic descriptions grates on your nerves, I would suggest taking a pass. Sadly, I fell more into the second category (Jeanne B). The loose ends at the novel's conclusion are resolved too quickly and are too neatly tied-up (Carole C).

Most, however, would recommend America for Beginners to a wide audience:
This is one of the best books I've read this year! (Melanie B). I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone who loves a good read that easily captures and holds for a weekend (Melissa S). I would also suggest it for those interested in exploring different viewpoints and other cultures (Kathryn H). Readers who have enjoyed A Man Called Ove and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry will be delighted with this book (Judith S). America for Beginners will be my next book recommendation to book club so that I can further explore it with friends (Laura G). It will stay with me for a long time and is certainly one worth sharing (Brenda S).

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in August 2018, and has been updated for the September 2019 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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