Review: Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

“Different things are important to different people.”

Behold the Dreamers captured me from the very first chapter. I was actually planning on picking this up closer to its release date, but decided at the last minute to just read a line or two to see if it would work in my favor or not. And wow, did it impress for the first half.

This tells the tale of a family of three living in Harlem, New York: Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son.

“As often as she could, she sat in the library to do her homework, or went to office hours to hound professors for advice on what she needed to do to get better grades so she could get into a great pharmacy school. She was going to make herself proud, make Jende proud of his wife, make Liomi proud of his mother. She’d waited too long to become something, and now, at thirty-three, she finally had, or was close enough to having, everything she’s ever wanted in life.”

It’s really been a while since a book made me think, “just one more chapter.” But Imbolo Mbue weaved together such an intricate story that I was left feeling truly attached to this family.

I was rooting for Nini whenever we got to read snippets of her studying. I felt truly inspired to start studying myself after finishing the book. And I just have so much admiration for her determination… I think I highlighted one too many parts of this book because of it. (And – fun fact – we both hate the smell of coffee!!) tumblr_oa58lyrbah1vqsw2co1_250

It also discussed the topic of immigration in a really eye-opening way:

“Listen to me,” Bubakar said, somewhat impatiently. “As far as Immigration is concerned, there are many things that are illegal and many that are gray, and by ‘gray’ I mean the things that are illegal but which the government doesn’t want to spend time worrying about. You understand me, abi? My advice to someone like you is to always stay close to the gray area and keep yourself and your family safe. Stay away from any place where you run into police—that’s the advice I give to you and to all the young black men in this country. The police is for the protection of white people, my brother. Maybe black women and black children sometimes, but not black men. Never black men. Black men and police are palm oil and water.”

And not only immigration, but a lot of topics were handled so well—I felt like the author took everything I didn’t know how to articulate and put it on paper. And those types of books – the kind that open up your heart and educate you – will stay with me for a long time.

But circling back to the plot of this story, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers.

Everything is seemingly going okay for the Jongas— Jende’s immigration court date seems to be years from now, Neni is acing her precalculus finals thanks to the help of her instructor, and Liomi is doing well in his classes.

But then the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers. And Jende and Neni have to stay strong in order to keep their family together.

“Please let’s not think like that,” Neni said. “You have a job for now, eh? As long as we have Mr. Edwards, we have a job. Are we not better off today than all those people walking out of Lehman? Look at them. I just feel so sorry for them. But then, we don’t know what’s on the road coming for us, too. We just don’t know. So let’s only be happy that today we were spared.”

They continuously encourage each other to be hopeful, to believe that they would one day realize the dream of becoming Americans. But everything was about to change, one way or another, for everyone in this country.

So, as great as those 100-200 first pages were, the ending really, really bothered me. I hated how horrendous Jende’s actions were and was even more appalled when he acted as if nothing out of the ordinary happened. Just…his sudden change of character towards the end didn’t sit well with me.

And Neni’s hate towards other girls threw me out of the story as well.

“Cindy’s things she planned to reserve for special occasions. She would wear them to weddings and anniversaries to show those girls that even though she had returned home and was living among them, she was not one of them—she was now a woman of class, with real designer items, and none of them could compete with her.”

Overall, a great introduction to a compelling family, but with a number of problematic behaviours and flaws while unraveling their story.

3.5/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Behold the Dreamers, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

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