Reader's Guide

The following questions can be used to prompt discussions about the 2019 Common Book, Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli.

Introduction

  • Consider the author, her background, as well as the time and place that the book takes place in. How may these factors affect the text and do these factors (a) weaken it due to a natural lack of objectivity or (b) strengthen it by offering a unique inside perspective?
  • What is the significance of the repeated phrase, and title of the book, “Tell Me How It Ends”?

Border

  • In the first chapter, as is common throughout the entire book, Valeria Luiselli jumps back and forth between her interviews and her own personal life. What are some strengths to this approach and why does she choose to do it this way?
  • How does Valeria Luiselli describe and compare the green card application to the questionnaire that is asked to the Central American children during their interviews?
  • "Life as an undocumented migrant is perhaps not worse than the life they are fleeing, but it is certainly not the life that anyone wants." What does this statement reveal about those entering the United States? Are people allowed to search for a better life and to what extent should national borders limit one’s possibility of safety and success?
  • How are the detention centers along the border (iceboxes) described by Luiselli and through the interviews?
  • Luiselli describes how, during her vacation with her family, she would hide the fact that they were Mexican, and many times had to show their passports to Border Patrol Officials. Can one separate race from national security? Why does the country generalize a whole race as a threat to the U.S.? How can Border Patrol be objective in their search for criminals if their reasons for stopping individuals is based on the individual’s skin color?
  • Luiselli discusses a "no-man’s land." What is she referring to and is this name appropriate for that area? Why or why not?
  • What are some organizations that are helping immigrants and what kind of work are they doing?
  • Danger follows migrants from the moment they choose to embark on their journey to the U.S. However, the dangers do not end the moment they cross the border. Luiselli shares many instances where immigrants in the United States suffer from cruelty, threats, and mistreatment, even by government officials. Does an individual’s legal status in a country justify the inhuman conditions they are subjected to?

Court

  • What did Obama’s administration do upon the declaration of the immigration crisis in the summer of 2014? What organizations reacted to Obama’s actions, and what did they do?
  • What are some criticisms to Obama’s reaction to the situation? Is it moral to demand someone to have an extreme case in order for them to even be given the chance to be granted entrance into the country?
  • Should politics be reasonable and fair? Is it reasonable or fair to give children 21 days to find their own lawyers?
  • Looking at it in hindsight, does Obama’s administration’s responses in 2014 differ from Trump’s administration’s responses now to the immigration situation? How is it similar and how is it different?
  • On page 51 Luiselli offers a simple and generalized overview of the process that a migrating child goes through. What are your thoughts and reactions upon reading this one page summary telling of many children’s experiences? What is the one difference that Luiselli mentions that can change the way in which the child’s experience goes? Why does this one detail change the whole story?

Home

  • What are the most common forms of immigration relief? What impact do they have?
  • What role do interpreters such as Luiselli have in the interview and in the building of the case for the child?
  • Why do non-profit organizations step in to find lawyers for these children? Should the immigration court remain as a civil court? Why or why not?
  • “Telling stories doesn’t solve anything, it doesn’t reassemble broken lives. But perhaps it is a way of understanding the unthinkable.” In today’s age, with the overwhelming presence of social media, many individuals and groups resort to tweets, Instagram stories, online articles, etc. as a way to raise awareness. However, they are often met with much criticism for “not doing enough.” To what extent should stories be told and voices be heard and when should action be taken? Can one be done without the other? What is the significance of the two?
  • What was the Mexican anti-immigration plan, the “Programa Frontera Sur”? What did it do? What was its purpose and what was it actually?
  • Whose responsibility and fault is the immigration crisis? How does placing blame help/hinder the situation and why do we continue to keep looking for who is to blame rather than solving the matter at hand?

Community

  • Luiselli gives the example of free public education to all children, regardless of their status and race. However, many children and parents are not aware of this right. Also, many other conditions instill fear in parents that cause them to doubt their rights. By not sharing the rights to all people regardless of their status, race, or ethnicity, and withholding knowledge from them, are people then consciously limiting other’s power? (vis-à-vis if "knowledge is power")
  • What is the plan that the ten students in Luiselli’s class come up with?
  • What is the significance of Luiselli’s final sentence of the book? Why did she choose to end it like this? What does it mean when answering the question “Why did you come to the United States?”