On the surface, this is a novel about the tension between an affluent California family and their Mexican maid. Money is getting tighter, a situation that forces Scott and Maureen Torres-Thompson to let their gardener and nanny go. The maid, Araceli, is left to take up the slack, taking on childcare on top of cooking and cleaning. After Scott and Maureen have an especially nasty fight over landscaping costs, their lack of communication leads to an impossible situation for Araceli.
This novel is not just about the tension in one household but the tension in the entire city of Los Angeles, and, by extension, the United States. Author Tobar is native to Los Angeles and has worked in journalism for years. He gives readers a layered view of the dysfunctional immigration situation, examining the complexities of the problem. Law enforcement, social services, the media, politicians, the judicial system, and everyday people all struggle to find a foothold in Araceli’s story; Tobar sheds light on the way individual experience influences the way we interpret circumstances.
While at times Tobar overreaches in his attempt to show us all of Los Angeles, his novel is a fascinating and sometimes humorous look at the inevitable misunderstandings that occur when cultures collide. He gives us a compassionate depiction of well-developed, flawed main characters whose pride and fear often gets the best of them. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)