People always talk about fighting being the brave thing. But maybe the bravest thing is knowing when to stop. Knowing when you are beat. It is such a simple answer. It almost makes me happy.
The Secret Side of Empty is a touching story about M.T., an undocumented immigrant. (M.T. describes herself as an 'illegal immigrant'.) When entering her senior year of high school it is becoming clearer than ever for her how different her life is from her peers' lives. They have grand plans to head off to college, to travel, and what else they may choose. M.T. believes she does not have the same choices, that her life will come to a standstill. We follow her life through this period of uncertainty.
The author takes inspiration from her own life as an (formerly) undocumented immigrant, which is quite clear throughout the novel. There are moments that is clearly drawn from experience or watching it closely, such as M.T.'s life at home, especially the strained - abusive - relationship with her father. These moments and scenes were the best ones, due to their honest narration, painful as it was to read it. Overall, the portrayal of the mundane - if you can call it that - life of a family of undocumented immigrants; the struggles of finding jobs and make it financially, what risks to take and what to stay clear of.
The story is, however, quite uneven. The pacing and writing are uneven. For long periods of the book, nothing ever really happens, and we're stuck in M.T.'s head, whose voice is so dull. It's understandable though; as the story progresses, M.T. sinks into what can only be depression, but right from the start there's nothing exciting about her voice and narration, so the long stretches of time when nothing happens are downright boring despite the hard situation she's in. The writing suffers from a similar problem; one moment it flows and is a delight to read, and the next moment there are lines like these:
I feel electricity shooting from my hand to him, like those glass balls you put your hands on and the plasma makes shooting purple streaks to your hands. I can feel him, the cells of him.
Call it nitpicking if you'd like, but these two lines made me cringe for quite some time. I mean, 'I can feel the cells of him'? What does that even mean?
Would I recommend this book? Well, yes. Despite the uneven writing and vague plot, it's a decent story. It is especially a story that the YA genre needs to tell. The parts with M.T.'s family are wonderful and painful, heartbreaking and heartwarming. So yes, in the end, I'd recommend reading The Secret Side of Empty despite its flaws.