First Person Fiction is dedicated to the immigrant experience in modern America. In "Behind the Mountains" Edwidge Danticat tells the story of Celiane and her family's struggles in Haiti and New York.
It is election time in Haiti, and bombs are going off in the capital city of Port-au-Prince. During a visit from her home in rural Haiti, Celiane Espérance and her mother are nearly killed. Looking at her country with new eyes, Celiane gains a fresh resolve to be reunited with her father in Brooklyn, New York. The harsh winter and concrete landscape of her new home are a shock to Celiane, who witnesses her parents' struggle to earn a living, her brother's uneasy adjustment to American society, and her own encounters with learning difficulties and school violence.
From Publishers Weekly
Launching the First Person Fiction series of immigrant coming-of-age stories, Danticat's (Breath, Eyes, Memory, for adults) debut novel for young people follows Celiane's journey from her mountain village in Haiti to join her father in Brooklyn. The narrative opens in October 2000 and unfolds as a journal, in which 13-year-old Celiane recounts events in a charming, innocent voice ("I must go soon, sweet little book, to prepare for Manman's return from the market"). Daily activities (e.g., preparing for market, listening to cassettes her father sends) give way to mounting political tensions as the presidential election approaches. Oddly, however, Celiane's childlike hopefulness persists even after she and her mother are injured by a pipe bomb ("Dear, sweet little book, if I could hold onto you so tightly that you are now here with me, why couldn't I have done the same for Manman?"). In December, Celiane, her mother and brother rejoin her father, who left five years before due to economic pressures. Through Celiane's spare if somewhat simplistic narration, the author captures the color and texture of Haitian life as well as the heroine's adjustment to New York. While readers may want to hear more about her experiences in Brooklyn, they will appreciate the truthfulness of the family's struggle to reconnect (even if the presentation of some of the historical information seems clunky). Danticat details her own departure from Haiti as an afterword. Ages 11-15.
From School Library Journal
Grade 5 Up-As the best student in the class, Celiane is given a "sweet little book" in which she decides to keep a journal. Her entries date from October 2000 to March 2001, and chronicle the family's departure from their homeland of Haiti to join her father, who had immigrated to New York City five years earlier. In graceful prose, Danticat seamlessly weaves together all that such a decision involves: the difficulties of rural life on the island and a longing for an absent parent combined with a fondness for her tiny mountain village with "the rainbows during sun showers- the smell of pinewood burning, the golden-brown sap dripping into the fire"; and the excitement and violence of Port-au-Prince where Celiane and her mother are injured in bombings before the elections. When Celiane, her mother, and her 19-year-old brother are finally approved to enter the U.S., the teen knows everything will be all right as soon as she sees her father, but there are the unavoidable frictions among family members, fueled not only by the separation and adjustment to a new country, but also by the natural maturing process that the children undergo. In this gem of a book, Danticat explores the modern immigrant experience through the eyes of one teen. Diane S. Marton, Arlington County Library, VA
Gr. 5-9. In a new First Person Fiction series about coming to America, acclaimed adult author Danticat tells the story of a contemporary Haitian American family through the diary entries of a young teen. Celiane Esperance loves her home in the Haitian mountains, but she hasn't seen Papa since he left for New York five years ago, and she misses him all the time. Long-awaited visas come through, and Celiane, her mother, and her older brother join Papa in Brooklyn, but it isn't the blissful reunion she dreamed about. The weaving together of fact and fiction is contrived (instructive is the term used in the general series introduction), especially in the first half of the book, set in Haiti, where the explanations of history and recent presidential politics seem wedged into Celiane's diary. But the short journal entries make for a readable, immediate narrative, and when Danticat sets aside the educational for the personal, her simple, lyrical writing tells a gripping homecoming story of tension, disappointment, anger, and hope. Her essay "My Personal Journey," about her own coming to Brooklyn at age 12 in 1981, is a moving final commentary. Hazel Rochman