Just Like Us Summary & Study Guide

Helen Thorpe

Just Like Us

  • 53-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 38 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a education specialist with graduate degrees in history and literature
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Just Like Us Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 53-page guide for “Just Like Us” by Helen Thorpe includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 38 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Political is Personal and The Role of Fate.

Plot Summary

Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America, written by Helen Thorpe, is detailed account of the lives of four Mexico-born girls as they come of age in Denver, Colorado. Thorpe, an Irish-American journalist, published the nonfiction novel in 2009. Two of the girls, Clara and Elissa, are here legally, while the other two, Marisela and Yadira, are without documents. While the girls are similar in birth and in their backgrounds, their legal status comes to define their futures.

The book opens as the girls are about to graduate from a public high school in Denver that is largely Latino. The girls deal with everyday teenage issues such as how to wear their hair, but they also contend with much more serious issues, such as how to deal with their traditional parents, how to handle constant relocations because of poverty, and how to pay for college. Beating the odds in which many students drop out of high school, the girls not only manage to graduate but have also done very well. Through scholarships and private donations of concerned individuals who support the education of illegal immigrants, all of the girls wind up going to college. Yadira, Marisela, and Clara attend the University of Denver, while Elissa goes to Regis. While they end up all matriculating, their process of getting to college is fraught with worries over how they will pay for it and how well they will be able to fit in on their campuses.

Once Yadira, Marisela, and Clara are at the University of Denver, their struggles have just begun. Their academic work is the least of their worries, as they contend with interpersonal battles, financial woes, and the larger political climate that becomes increasingly inimical to immigrants.

The double murder of Denver police officers in the hands of an illegal immigrant from Mexico worsens their situation, and the girls respond by becoming increasingly committed to social action. They take part in political demonstrations and join a Latina sorority.

The author also relates her own turmoil, as she is covering the story of the four girls while her husband, John Hickenlooper, is serving as the mayor of Denver. He is caught in the political turmoil surrounding immigrants in Denver, as his brew pub hired the illegal immigrant who is accused of shooting the police officers (though after he took office and put his business in a trust). The author reflects on her own similarities to the girls, as she was also brought to the U.S. by her parents as a child, and she is also labeled as the mayor’s wife, obscuring who she is as an individual. However, she is also aware that her similarities with the girls ends there, as her labels are ones of privilege, while theirs are not. Hickenlooper engages in political battles with Tom Tancredo, a Republican congressman from Colorado who makes illegal immigration a focal issue for his party.

The girls’ families continue to struggle to survive in the U.S. Yadira’s mother, Alma, is jailed for having stolen another immigrant’s identity to be able to work, and Alma must leave for Mexico. Yadira’s sisters are shuffled between houses, and she must also take care of them. Marisela finds herself feeling more comfortable with people of color, and her family too meets with economic problems and instability. In the end, the question of their identity—both legal and cultural—is still up in the air as they manage to graduate from college and face the wider world.

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